Perspective on Perspective

Two photographers on the bridge at 12mm; this perspective give a very powerful "near-far" feel.
Two photographers on the bridge at 12mm; this perspective gives a very powerful "near-far" feel.

The intensely complex visual puzzle that photography represents is rife with thousands of lessons to be learned, only a few hundred of which I am able to share with my students in the time we have in class. The lessons can be graphic, geometric, mathematical, photometric, sociological, economic, psychological, even physiological. Imagery in the 21st century is pervasive and ubiquitous, but at the same time, genuinely good, meaningful imaging can be difficult and elusive.

With this all in mind, I try to give my students little pearls, little “a-ha!” moments in the classroom and in the field that I hope will end up being tools to help them create meaningful images. One pearl I gave them last Monday was something very basic, yet somewhat elusive to many: perspective. I’m not talking about personal perspective that helps you understand your teenager, but visual perspective, the relationship between where the photographer makes images, how he/she makes them, and how it is communicated to the viewer.

Two photographers on the bridge made with a 200mm; this perspective give a very "compressed" feel.
Two photographers on the bridge made with a 200mm; this perspective gives a very "compressed" feel.

The exercise I gave them Monday was simple, but it had a lot to offer. We were on the wooden bridge over the pond at the Pontotoc Technology Center where I teach. As usual, I had two cameras, one with my 12-24mm, the other with my 70-200mm. I told two students, Elaine and Easter, to stay where they were, and proceeded to photograph them with at 12mm and then at 200mm. I then showed them the result on the monitors of the two cameras, and was greeted with a chorus of “Wow!”

You can read about this all day, but when you see it created before you, it has a more substantial impact. I hope I was able to communicate the idea of visual perspective to these people and help them make images that make a difference.

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