To the snap-shooter, nothing could be simpler than a landscape. Just find some pretty scenery, lift your camera and press the button. Viola! Landscape.
Now if you’re not a mere snap-shooter, you know the absolute folly of what I just said. While it’s true that it’s easy to shoot a landscape, it is also extremely difficult to capture one. What I mean of course is that anyone can lift a camera and press the button, and because landscapes don’t move it seems as if capturing one should be as easy as that. But you and I both know that recreating a beautiful, three-dimensional scene in a two dimensional medium is much more difficult than just hitting that shutter button. Let’s see how to do it…
Landscapes are beautiful, in part, because of their scale. So how do you take something as vast as the Rocky Mountains or the arches of Utah and do it justice on a flat piece of 8×10 paper? To answer this question, we have to know a little bit about how the human brain – and the human eye – work together to make us perceive three dimensions.
The human brain interprets depth and distance in two ways: the first is called “Stereopsis”, which has to do with the convergence of images on the retina of each eye. Basically, this just means that because human eyes are roughly 2.36 inches apart, the image that one eye sees is not exactly the same as what the other one sees. When the brain compares the position of each image on the retina, it can use that information to judge distance.
Fortunately for photographers, stereopsis isn’t the only way that the human brain perceives scenery in three dimensions. We also use monocular cues such as previous familiarity, which means that we use our experiences to judge distance. For example, if there is a person in the foreground of an image and a house in the background, we can make a decision about how far apart the two objects are because we know roughly how big a person is and roughly how big a house is. Other monocular cues include converging lines and color saturation (near colors look brighter while distant colors look paler), and interposition (when one object is partially obscured by another object, our brain knows that the partially-obscured object is at a greater distance than the object obscuring it).