Welcome to the Third Dimension

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Photography is a two dimensional art form.  Height and width and that’s it, I’m afraid.  To get the three dimensions of height, width and depth, you need to produce a hologram, something beyond the scope of your point and shooter or mobile phone, I’m afraid.  And I don’t care how many mega-pixels it boasts.

Going from 2D to 3D is like the current advances in television, going from HD (high definition) to 3D flat screen.  I have yet to see Pattaya Mail TV in 3D, but undoubtedly it will come – but when?  And at what price?

However, while waiting for the 3D revolution to overhaul us, we can do something towards giving our 2D photographs some 3D characteristics.  The accepted definition of photography is “painting with light” as what you are doing is using light in all its directions and intensities to illuminate your subject, before you record it on film or in electronic pixels.

When a young photographer first gets his ‘professional’ lighting equipment, he (or she) tends to flood everything with enormous light levels.  Every part of every subject is totally covered with the light, and the new young photographer is delighted with the fact that there are no dark corners left unilluminated.  It is a bright, white world out there.

Unfortunately, there is something missing from the final shots.  A certain lack of form or shape.  The only contrast in the final photograph relies totally on color.  Yellows on blue are very popular under these circumstances.  Yes, I too have photographed a model in a yellow dress against a blue doorway.  Super shot, but missing something.

The item that is missing is the third dimension.  It is back to the photograph with the two dimensional image – height and width.  However, the third dimension, depth, is totally missing.  This third dimension, the so-called 3D effect can be produced by some visual trickery, which you know and all photographers know, called ‘shadow’.  It is the shadow which differentiates a circle from a ball, but if you blast the spherical subject with so much light that there is no shadow, the final result has no shape, no depth, no 3D effect, and will look just like a circle.

This is why the photographer has to use shadow to give the impression of the third dimension.  This makes a 2D image look like a 3D one, and is done by careful manipulation of both the lighting and the shadows that the lighting produces.

Take the outdoors situation, for example.  We always suggest to the novices that they should photograph early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  Do not shoot in the middle of the day.  One reason for this is because in the early mornings and late afternoons the lighting (from the sun) is directional, skimming along the top of the earth’s surface, and makes for plenty of shadow.  In the middle of the day, however, the sun is directly overhead and does not make for pleasant shadows, and even landscapes will look flat and featureless.  Look at some of the famous landscapes done by Ansel Adams in the early mornings and you will see what I mean.  For a photographer, the middle of the day is purely for siestas, not for photography.  It does mean that you get up at some dreadful early hours in the morning to drive to the location, but the end result is worth it.  Look at Mr Adams’ photographs again.

One of the problems with new digital SLRs is the powerful on-camera flash.  This pops up at any time and overpowers the natural lighting, and being centrally mounted makes for a photograph flooded with light, but no real shadow.  If you disable the on-camera flash, you will also get better photographs, other than after sundown, where you need some light source to be able to register an image.

Light from the side as much as you can.  An off-camera flash can do this for you, but if you don not have this equipment, shoot early morning or late afternoon and turn the subject to get the side-lighting and 3D effect.