I am not talking about DOF (Depth of field) here, although DOF is not entirely irrelevant, this article is about ‘Pictorial Depth’ – How we see a third dimension in a 2 dimensional image. Being able to convey depth in an image will give a sense of space, it will also help to communicate size and distance.

Depth perception in a picture is created with a number of ‘Pictorial cues’.

    Occlusion – overlap
    Height in the scene
    Size
    Converging lines
    Texture gradient
    Atmospheric degradation
    Brightness
    Colour

Undercover

Occlusion – overlap
If one objects overlaps another, we assume that the overlapped object is further away. This is a very powerful depth cue because it can’t be wrong! Apart from a few illusions, it is impossible for a further object to overlap a nearer object. In my example image, there are many examples of nearer objects occluding further objects. The foreground rock and its ice-hood occludes most of the middle ground – there is no question that this object is close. The ice berg occludes some of the mountain, the mountain occludes the more distant mountain. Some of this effect is enhanced by having a low camera angle to make the occlusion caused by the foreground rock to be greater.

Height in the scene
Until you get to the height of the horizon, object which are higher in the scene are assumed to be further away. The usually are. That foreground rock is low in the scene, but it is not at the bottom of the image. The ice and ground at the very bottom of the scene is assumed to be closer than the rock even though there is no occlusion. The little stones on the ice on the left are good examples of height in the scene creating apparent depth. Height in the scene is not a very powerful depth cue. The top of the rock-ice-cover is quite high in the scene, but we know that it is not further than the little stones because of the powerful occlusion of the rock on the back edge of the ice-slab. Above the horizon, the opposite becomes true and objects lower in the scene appear further away. This can be seen with the clouds. The clouds at the top of the image are seen as being closer.

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Article in progress!
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