You don’t need to be a pro to use forced perspective. In fact, you’ve probably seen your friends post photos using the technique. Some of the most iconic films have worked with it, and even semi-professional photographers often grace the internet with the unique visual elements it often gives. So how can you use it and create new and innovative images or footage? Well why don’t we first answer what is forced perspective, and then jump right in.
Defining the concept
An overview of forced perspective
Forced perspective is a pretty simple manipulation technique. And even better news, you don’t need to be a professional photographer or filmmaker to implement it. We'll begin with a forced perspective definition before jumping into some forced perspective examples from movies like Lord of the Rings, Elf, and Eternal Sunshine.
Forced Perspective Definition
What is forced perspective?
Forced perspective is a technique which manipulates human perception by employing optical illusion to make objects appear larger, smaller, farther, or closer than they really are. By viewing the correlation between scaled objects and the vantage point of the camera or spectator, human visual perception becomes altered.
Forced perspective in film is often used to depict fantasy worlds in which humans are either much larger or smaller than other actors. In forced perspective photography, the camera can create interesting visual effects allowing humans to interact with objects or other subjects in otherwise impossible ways. An example of this is an individual stepping on the Eiffel Tower.
How to do forced perspective:
- Place object or subject closer to camera for a much bigger effect
- Place object or subject farther from the camera for smaller effect
- Use a wide angle lens (anything less than 35mm)
- Use a narrow aperture such as f/16
Writing about forced perspective seems less effective than showing you what it looks like. Here's a video on the basic mechanics of the illusion.
Now that we’ve defined what forced perspective is, let’s expand a bit more on how to create this effect.
Creating the Effect
How to do forced perspective
In the definition block above, I mentioned a few considerations of how to create this illusion. Below is a quick video with some forced perspective examples from movies, and how to create the effect.
Let’s dive a little deeper in each so you can try them out at home with your camera. *Keep in mind, you can use your phone, but if you do have a digital camera, even better.
Configuring your subjects and objects may be a bit simpler if you have a good amount of space to work with.
Positioning Subjects and Camera
The closer the subject or object is to the camera, the larger it will appear, especially in relation to a subject or object further away. Similarly, when you want something to appear small, keep it far from the camera.
*Also if you need to build props, make sure they are either smaller or larger in size, based on which size subject is using them.
If we have these two subjects with a decent distance in between them, it’s important to pick a camera setting that can keep them both in focus. This is why we’d want a fairly narrow aperture. An f/16 should do the trick. Refresh yourself on how aperture works if necessary, because this basic knowledge will be your best friend. And it’s best to aim right in the middle of your subjects.
*Because this technique requires such a small aperture, make sure the scene is either well-lit, or your ISO setting is cranked up enough but not too much for grainy footage or images.
Wide Angle Lens
Wide angle lenses will give you more options for different subject sizes. Anything under 35 mm is considered a wide angle. But if you don’t have access to this gear, no worries. Have you ever seen someone post or take a picture that’s clearly manipulated? You’ve probably done it yourself. Your phone can achieve forced perspective if positioned correctly.
Don’t Give Away the Trick
If you are using two subjects to mark a notable size difference, like a hobbit, or a giant, make sure the two people don’t look directly at each other, that will ruin the illusion! It’s critical they pretend the other subject is directly in front of them. If they are addressing each other, the one farther from the camera should look up, and the “larger” one, closer to the camera, should look down.
Forced Perspective, Fantasy, and Film
Examples of forced perspective in film
One of the best uses of this illusion is in fantasy type movies. And no one executes this technique quite like the Lord of the Rings’ filmmakers.
Lord of the Rings forced perspective is specifically notable because it demanded a ton of manipulation not only in the positioning of the actors but also in the prop building, and the moving forced perspective it required.
Watch how the filmmakers blended different size props and characters, while moving the set, to create this seamless scene between Froto and Gandalf.
If you want a more practical example of how to achieve this, and how to calculate ratios between subjects and different sized objects, check out the more practical, everyday filmmaker’s guide, below.
Our next film example is a holiday classic. Nothing rings in the holiday spirit quite like the giant sized elf in well, ...Elf.
Notice how they built parts of the set in combination to where they positioned Will Ferrell to the camera, to create this gargantuan illusion.
Filmmakers were said to have been uninterested in CGI and wanted to keep it as real as possible.
Director, Michel Gondry, had a similar intention for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With just the right amount of camera trickery, he could limit the number of CGI considerably.
The scene where Joel brings Clem to a childhood memory, the production team built a forced perspective kitchen to give us a child size Jim Carrey.
When it comes to filmmaking, there are numerous ways to achieve this look. But if you’re not in a position or have the budget to build sets and or even create smaller props, there are plenty of ways to create the illusion by simply manipulating your environment.
Forced Perspective Photography
Need some forced perspective ideas?
When it comes to using this technique for still images, generating unique perspectives, is really up to you and your imagination.
Below are some forced perspective ideas to get you started, and spark some creativity.
So, give it a try. You know enough now to mess around with it at home. Just remember to position the camera appropriately to achieve your desired effect. If you’re interested in some gear that might help this process, keep reading.
What is a tilt-shift lens?
Forced perspective is a clever (and real!) way to create dynamic and mind-bending imagery but it's not the only game in town. The tilt-shift lens is another tool that can be used for manipulating imagery. Continue your exploration of in-camera magic with this versatile and fascinating piece of equipment.