Controlling Image Planes in Photography
An open landscape forms a continuous
vista that starts at your feet and stretches away to infinity. There
are no sharp divisions to break up the scenery conveniently into
separate regions for the camera. Nevertheless, it's often useful to
divide up the scene with imaginary boundary lines. Sliced up into zones
at different distances from the camera, the landscape takes on a more
For most purposes, we create three zones, at progressively increasing
distances from the camera: foreground, middle distance, and background.
The division is completely arbitrary, and in the film industry, for
example, script-writers may further divide these regions in order to
specify their shots more concisely.
The division between adjacent zones is
equally arbitrary: it would be absurd to say that the foreground
extends exactly 20 feet from the camera, or that the background starts
a mile away. Not every picture contains all three image-planes, either
- distant scenes may be all background, with no middle distance or
Nevertheless, these loose definitions
provide a useful vocabulary when we talk about the construction of
IMAGE PLANE RELATIONSHIPS
Most pictures, of course contain more
than one of the three individual planes. Interaction between different
subject planes can make an image dynamic, or placid: disquieting or
reassuring. Broadly speaking, the foreground is dark-toned, the middle
distance is mid-toned, and the background is lighter in tone. This
effect is known as aerial perspective and is caused by haze and dust.
Images that reinforce each of these characteristics fulfill our
preconceptions of the landscape view, and we find them comforting, or
calming. Usurping any of these values, though, tends to give the
landscape image uncanny qualities.
By exploiting the effects of light and
shade you can alter aerial perspective with startling results.
Reflections in a lake, for example, frequently reverse the structure of
the image, so that the distant elements of the scene appear lower in
the frame than closer ones, which create a visually exciting image.
Storm light also produces an inversion, darkening the background while
the sun lights the foreground. Similarly, low-lying mist creates
striking imagery because it makes foreground detail less distinct and
shrouds the background.