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Design & Style

How to Use Vanishing Points in Your Photography

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Vanishing points are an important concept in all fine arts. Understanding vanishing points is essential to both drawing perspective pieces and capturing powerful photographs that convey a sense of depth. Though vanishing points and perspective projection may sound like complicated subjects, understanding how they operate is relatively simple and can help take your photography to the next level.

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What Is a Vanishing Point?

A vanishing point is a single point on the horizon line in an image where parallel lines converge to give the illusion of depth. Vanishing points are an integral concept in linear perspective techniques that were popularized by influential painters and artists during the Renaissance. Artists used to operate under proscribed rules that dictated how vanishing points should be placed with regard to eye level and the point of view of the viewer. As art and photography have evolved, however, artists have embraced more freedom to experiment with how vanishing points are used in their images.

3 Types of Perspective

Perspective is an incredibly important technique used by visual artists to reflect the depth of three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional artistic reproduction. The question of how to produce depth on a flat surface is one that stymied artists for millennia. In order to understand how vanishing points can be used in your photographs, it’s first important to go through a brief perspective lesson to explain the basics of different types of perspectives and how they work:

  1. One-point perspective: Single-point perspective is the simplest form of linear perspective and can easily be used in a linear perspective drawing by artists with even the most rudimentary drawing skills. Simply put, in a single-point perspective drawing, the parallel horizontal and vertical lines seem to converge at a single vanishing point towards the center.
  2. Two-point perspective: In two-point perspective, an image is divided into two sides with both the left and right having their own respective vanishing points. Straight lines will bend towards whichever vanishing point is on the side that they originate from.
  3. Three-point perspective: In a three-point perspective drawing or photograph, straight lines converge at three different vanishing points usually placed by the artist at the edges of whatever two-dimensional surface on which their image is composed.
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5 Tips for Using Vanishing Points in Photography

Once you have a basic understanding of vanishing point perspective, it’s time to start playing with how vanishing points are used in your photography. Vanishing points require parallel lines. Any time your frame has a set of parallel lines, it’s a good opportunity to play with composition and think about how these straight lines draw the eye towards or away from different parts of your image. The following is a step-by-step guide to using vanishing point during a real-life photography shoot:

  1. Size up your setting. Before you pick up your camera, take a moment to survey the setting in which you’re shooting. Are you looking at a cityscape with the strong angular lines of skyscrapers stretching towards the heavens? Are you looking down a set of railroad tracks that seem to bend together as they approach the horizon? These are obvious examples of vanishing point that will appear in your line of sight, but regardless of where you are shooting, there will probably be a vanishing point you can use if you take the time to look for it.
  2. Consider the focal point. Once you’ve identified a vanishing point (or points) in your picture plane, ask yourself what you want the focal point of your image to be. Is there a part of the frame that you want to draw your viewer’s eye towards? If there is a particularly dramatic sunrise at the horizon, you might want to frame up your vanishing point so that it lines up with the sun.
  3. Play with depth of field. You can choose whether or not you want your vanishing point to be in focus or out of focus by adjusting the depth of field. It can be very effective to place the vanishing point out of focus in your image. Just like in a perspective drawing, this will give your image a greater sense of depth.
  4. Consider tone. What is the tone of the image you are trying to capture? Is it a dramatic piece full of stark colors and somber lighting? Is it an uplifting image meant to inspire hope? These are questions to consider as you decide where your vanishing point should lie in the overall frame of your image.
  5. Move the vanishing point around your frame. Once you’ve gone through these steps and taken a few shots that you’re satisfied with, take the time to play around with other options. You never know what you’ll find when you experiment with different vanishing point placements, and it’s always important to take the time to explore.

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