Photo Perspective Question

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by TwoWheels, Nov 13, 2015.

  1. TwoWheels

    TwoWheels Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 28, 2014
    British Columbia
    I've been sitting here looking at a picture I shot a couple days ago and just decided it's time to ask about something that has always puzzled me. I enjoy mountain biking and usually take a camera along on rides. One thing has always frustrated me about taking pictures on rides. The terrain in a photo NEVER appears as steep as it is in reality. The rock that Chris is rolling down looks a little steep but not too bad in the photo--maybe a 45-50 degree angle. When actually standing beside it, it looks very near vertical to the point that it hardly looks physically possible to roll down it--more like 80 degrees.

    Almost every photo I've taken of mountain biking has the same type of effect. I've tried different angles and perspectives, but the steepness of terrain never shows up in the photo as my eye sees it. Why is that? If anything, it seems like a two dimensional photo should tend to compress the depth which would make it appear steeper. Why does a photo tend to level the hills? Does a wide angle lens make it worse? This was shot with the P14.

    There's got to be some geometry or optical principles at work here that cause it. And if that's the case, it should be possible to work around it. Any ideas?

  2. 50orsohours

    50orsohours Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 13, 2013
    Portland Oregon
    Evan - I think it is just you, maybe you are used to it. Because to me it looks very steep.
    • Agree Agree x 4
  3. It does look steep to me, but maybe not as steep as you suggest. Chris riding position to me at least makes it clear that I would be walking this one :)

    That all said this issue comes up a lot from what I have seen; roadies have the same issue. One suggestion I have seen but not tried is to tilt the camera :). Okay seriously the Fatcyclist has a blog post on this issue ... might be helpful.

  4. harryz

    harryz Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 3, 2012
    Vancouver, BC
    This is steep enough to understand how this guy is crazy. May be beacause I sow it in the real life. Here in BC they are everywhere. Crazy bikers.
  5. T N Args

    T N Args Agent Photocateur

    Dec 3, 2013
    Adelaide, Australia
    call me Arg
    Don't use wide angle lenses
  6. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Legend

    I agree it is wide angle perspective as well as standing in that 3/4 head on position. If you were closer to 90 degrees to him, I think the hill would look steeper.

    I would try adjusting your position as well as using something closer to normal focal length (20-30mm) if possible.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Nice question. You can see the steepness only when you are on the side. So you can have the exact profile only taking a side shot of the biker.
    Go exactly in front to the slope and it will be flat. I mean this vs this:

    A long lens(*) should make the distant elements appear bigger then the closer ones so my brain thinks that the high part of the path is at about the same distance of the lower one and it should appear more steep.

    Wild guesses: I suppose an important thing is if the camera is pointing up, down or flat (but keeping it level with the horizon). The upper you point the steeper it gets? How many distant objects, magnified by a tele, you include? Distance from the floor? How much terrain you include in the foreground? Maybe the close terrain at the bottom makes it look more flat: you could try to crop it where the slope meets the frame border and see what you get. Also a wider aspect ratio could help. Rotating a little the camera (non flat horizon) may give a more action look, but you tilt the trees too.

    (*) I mean the different perspective you get when you move to get the same framing with this other lens.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2015
    • Like Like x 1
  8. Vandy

    Vandy Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 8, 2015
    Doesn't it have something to do with 2d, 3d, flat type of thingy? :confused-53: I would agree with the :thiagree:
  9. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Just one more thing: to show that something is big you need a size reference element in the picture.
    To show steepness maybe you need an "angle reference" with something certainly vertical, in this case the trees, the horizon or even the picture frame.
    This could be a guideline to check for the steepness before the shot, maybe.
  10. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    You're right. There are both geometrical and optical factors at work.

    One basic principle relates to camera angle. Let's say you're shooting a normal scene on flat ground and you have the camera pointing straight ahead with the lens dead level. The ground is parallel to the lens axis. Now consider your shot at someone on a slope. Keep the camera level and the slope is not parallel to the lens axis, in fact the steeper the slope is, the closer it gets to being perpendicular to the lens axis but if you aim the camera up to capture the bike rider above you, you move the slope back closer to parallel to the lens axis. It isn't going to look as steep a slope if you angle the camera up so one rule is to try to keep the camera level. The problem with that is that the longer the lens and the narrower the field of view, the less high above you the rider is going to have to be in order to be included in the frame, and the less background you're going to have in order to show that they are on sloping ground.

    Another basic principle relates to focal length. Wide angle lens perspective accentuates the foreground and makes the background seem further away. That will effectively reduce the visual steepness of the slope in the image. Telephotos compress the sense of distance between foreground and background which can make a slope appear steeper.

    But there we have the problem. A level camera can help capture the sense of slope but the higher the rider is above you and the more of the slope you want to capture, the shorter your focal length needs to be to fit things in but the more that choice will seem to expand the distance between foreground and background, lessening the sense of slope.

    Don't use a longer focal length than necessary because that will work against you. Try angling the lens down a little because that will bring the slope closer to perpendicular to the lens axis and that will help to reduce the expansion of distance between foreground and background that comes with shorter focal lengths. Shooting more from the side can help as well as already suggested.

    Finally, play with slight rotations of the image in post processing. You'll have to crop a bit but rotating the image slightly can make the slope appear steeper. Another processing trick you can try is to use a radial or graduated filter and increase the sharpness/clarity of the background behind the rider slightly, but not to the point where it looks sharper than the rider. Things look less sharp/clear to us the further they are away from us so making something further away in an image sharper/clearer can send a cue to our brain that it is closer than we think, compressing the sense of distance and that may heighten the appearance of steepness. Conversely reducing the sharpness/clarity of the background slightly can make it seem further away and add depth to the image.

    Probably no one suggestion in that group of suggestions above is going to give you the result you want on its own but combining two or more may make a bigger difference. Camera angle and lens choice are going to be dictated to some degree by your location so you may not be able to make the choices that would give the biggest impact and still get the shot you want, but you still have processing and if you're going to rotate the image slightly you're going to need to be aware of that before you press the shutter because it would be impossible to rotate your image above and crop without making the image incredibly tall and narrow and perhaps losing the steepness in the crop. Try taking a few "chomping" shots of the slope before the rider starts coming down and check how steep the slope looks in the images and see how much you need to rotate the camera in order to get a steep enough looking image. You could even shoot with the camera angled that way in order to minimise the need to crop because the more you rotate the image, the more you're going to have to crop it and that's going to end up working against what you can achieve in camera at the time of shooting.
  11. TwoWheels

    TwoWheels Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 28, 2014
    British Columbia
    Lots of things to think about and some great ideas. @David A@David A, you've given a couple of great explanations that make a lot of sense. The obvious limitation that you allude to is that in the middle of the forest, getting a clear shot is difficult and position options are limited. If I could just climb a tree while holding my camera in one hand... :biggrin: In this case, I could have had a better position on the other side, but would have been shooting directly into the sun. Regardless, thinking about these concepts, I do have some ideas about how I can change position next time. Thanks everyone!

  12. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    I just tried a simple rotation in Lightroom with your image above but the amount of rotation needed to increase the sense of slope required too much cropping and eliminated a lot of the rider. I then tried doing a manual perspective transform and rotation instead and did a bit better, but still lost a fair bit of the rider:

    steep slope.jpg

    I haven't cropped the image after the transform and rotation so that's why the odd shape to the image. Cropping to rectangular would have lost too much on the sides and I wanted to keep as much of the original image as possible.

    With this image you can't see the lower part of the track clearly, it's obscured by the slightly higher ground in front of it, and there's a strong edge with less slope at the top of the face where the scene changes to the trees in the background which I think you end up taking a lot of your "steepness" visual cues from. Rotation does help. The simplest approach in this case would simply have been to have rotated the camera at the time you made the shot, which is why I suggested the "chomping" shots in advance. Once the shot is taken you have limited options and the location of the rider in the frame can impose even further limitations as you can see here.

    My suggestions about sharpening/clarity adjustments won't work with this shot, you'd need to be more front on to the rider and path and have some of the slope visible behind the rider for those "tricks" to hope to have an effect. Rotation is really your only hope from this angle and it's better to do it in camera at the time than to try and do it later in processing.
  13. TwoWheels

    TwoWheels Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 28, 2014
    British Columbia
    And the main problem with rotation is that there are trees in the background that suddenly aren't growing vertically. You're right that if the shot were set up differently that would be a possibility. Believe it or not, the rotation you did above still isn't as steep as it appears to the eye. It's getting close but isn't quite there. I'll go back and try it again with some different thoughts on how to capture it.
  14. PacNWMike

    PacNWMike Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 5, 2014
    Salish Sea
    2W, I run into that illusion too on steep trails. I wonder if maybe the camera is right and slope just isn't as steep as it looks. Sometimes I look down and will swear that it is a 65° angle when the map and gps is saying 35°... Looking straight up/down there just isn't anything to go by. I guess I better start carrying an Abney level ;)
  15. Carbonman

    Carbonman Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jul 10, 2014
    Vancouver BC
    TwoWheels, you and your friends are crazy! :coco: I'll stick to paved roads and skinny tires (& bad drivers)... :thumbsup:
    • Funny Funny x 1
  16. TwoWheels

    TwoWheels Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 28, 2014
    British Columbia
    :biggrin: Actually, my friends are crazier than I am. On that particular rock, I'm generally content to take the pictures. And I like paved roads and skinny tires too...
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