5 Ideas to Capture Forced Perspective

Forced perspective is a fun and useful photography trick to create optical illusions in your work. It may seem like these techniques require some Photoshop trickery or special effects, but they’re all easily achievable through careful camera and subject positioning. 

What exactly is forced perspective?

Forced perspective is an artistic technique that uses strategic positioning of subjects to create new ways for them to interact. The most common example of this occurs when tourists pose so they appear to be holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, putting their arms around the Eiffel Tower, or cradling the sun. 

In film, you may be familiar with forced perspective from the films in the The Lord of the Rings series. By using this technique, the filmmakers were able to make the actors who played hobbits look very small in comparison to other characters. 

Ready to try forced perspective in your photography? Here are a few examples of forced perspective photography and tips to help you get started.

1. Playing with size

Whether you’re creating hobbits, giants, or something in between during your photoshoot, playing with size as part of a forced perspective shot can result in some very funny and ultimately creative photography. When playing with size, it’s important to maintain a consistent vantage point. Set your camera on a tripod and try not to bump it. 

The subject you want to increase in size will need to be very close to the camera, and the subject that’ll look small will need to be very far away. Using a wide angle lens can help get all your subjects in frame and also add some natural distortion to amplify the optical illusion.

Make sure your aperture is very narrow for a deep depth of field. To achieve forced perspective, both subjects need to be in perfect focus. You won’t have bokeh in your images, but you will have some amusingly-sized subjects.

2. Object interaction

Just like those Leaning Tower of Pisa shots, many forced perspective images rely on playful subject and object interaction. Placing the camera on a tripod helps keep your object and your camera in the same location. That way, you can move the subject to tweak its placement and perspective.

Try putting a person in an empty ice cream cone. Or, have a subject interact with the shadow of a stationary object like a basketball hoop or bicycle. 

Some forced perspective photographers start with historic photographs of locations and landscapes, then hold them up in front of the place where the original image was shot. By carefully overlapping the images, you can create some really compelling glimpses through history.

3. Paper cutouts

Clever paper cutout photographs have been popping up on social media lately. For this type of forced perspective photo, hold up a paper cutout of a character or object in front of a location or landscape.

One example of this photography technique is a paper cut out of Spider-Man held up in front of the support wires of a bridge. The bridge becomes a part of Spidey’s web, and offers a fun and unique way of looking at an everyday structure.

You can also use negative space with paper cutouts. Some photographers start with printed photos of celebrities in ball gowns. Then they cut out the gowns to create an area of negative space where the dress was. Finally, they hold up the photo in front of flowers or a sunset scene. The resulting effect looks like the dress is made of peonies or golden evening light.

4. Rotate your images for a new perspective

Pose a subject with their back on the ground and their feet on a wall. When you rotate the image in Photoshop, it will look like they’re in an M.C. Escher drawing. Playing with subject placement with the intention of rotating photos later opens up a whole new world of fantasy and optical illusion. Gravity is no longer an issue, and your photos can become magical!

5. Combine multiple techniques

With forced perspective photography, there are no limits or rules. If you can imagine it, you can create it. Play with size, relationships to objects, paper cutouts, and more in a single image. As long as you use a tripod, check your work as you go, and maintain a deep depth of field, the possibilities are endless.

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