Viewing distance and perspective -- what's the basis?

Discussion in 'Photographic Aesthetics and Composition' started by DrPablo, Sep 20, 2007.

  1. DrPablo

    DrPablo Member

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    I've occasionally read, including in Ansel Adams' writings, that viewing a print from the same distance as the lens' focal length (multiplied by enlargement factor if applicable) provides the most appropriate perspective.

    What is the basis for this idea? I'm just asking out of curiosity. Why does the focal length of a lens determine how far away we should stand from a print?

    And I also don't understand why this rationale is used in support of LF and ULF contact prints, whereas the same image / final print size should demand the same viewing distance irrespective of format (i.e. a format that requires 2x as much enlargement will require 1/2 the focal length -- so the viewing distance will be identical in the end).
     
  2. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Paul,

    The logic is that the angle subtended by each element in the picture should be the same as the angle subtended at the camera by the same element in the original scene.

    Often, this gives a unique three-dimensionality to the image, the 'magic' perspective. The eye/brain can accommodate quite wide variations, so the 'magic' is seen across a few inches either side of the 'magic' distance, but outside that range, it is normally lost.

    Small pictures are normally examined from closer than big ones, so (for example) a 127mm/5 inch lens on quarter plate implies a viewing distance of 5 inches while a 300mm/12 inch lens on 8x10 implies a viewing distance of 12 inches.

    This also explains why small formats often use 'long standard' lenses, e.g. 6 inch on quarter plate and 50mm on 35mm: viewing distances for 'magic' perspective would be inconveniently short otherwise. Thus a 5x enlargement off 35mm shot with a 50mm lens should be viewed from 250mm or 10 inches.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  3. DrPablo

    DrPablo Member

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    Makes sense, Roger. I wonder if most people intuitively look from this 'magic' distance as they move in and out from a gallery photo.

    The strange thing is it implies very close viewing distances for wide angle shots and strangely far viewing distances for telephoto shots. I mean if you use a 47mm lens on 4x5 and enlarge to 8x10, that means you're looking at an 8x10 print from 3 1/2 inches away. Or if you use a 600mm lens on 35mm, a 4x6 print would be viewed from 8 feet away.

    Seems to be a bit impractical except for normal lenses

    There must be a similar phenomenon for drawings and paintings, assuming any perspective is consistent across the picture. I mean the print doesn't know if it's passed through a lens or not.
     
  4. eddym

    eddym Member

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    I have long admired "Flaming June" in the Ponce Museum of Art, and have always believed that, given it's square format, it must have been painted from a photo taken by a Hasselblad with about a 150mm lens.
    http://images.google.com.pr/imgres?...une&um=1&start=1&sa=X&oi=images&ct=image&cd=1

    The fact that it was painted in 1895 is but a small flaw in my reasoning. :wink:
     
  5. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    It must always include enlargement factor. After all, a 4x5 contact print should be viewed at the same 'size' as an 8x10 enlargement.

    The proper viewing distance is always important in prints and always includes the size of the final image.

    PE
     
  6. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    All these formulae and stuff are wonderful things to know. but we all know that the appropriate distance for a photographer looking at another photographer's photograph is to have your nose right on the glass.
    If you are of an appropriate vintage, you will either take your glasses off or push them up on your forehead before you stick your nose on the glass.
    Come on, you know this is true.
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't have the text in front of me, but if I recall correctly, Adams is talking about the viewing distance at which the perspective would look natural, which is not necessarily the best or expected viewing distance. For instance, if you look at an image made with an ultrawide lens from a very close viewing distance, the perspective will look natural, but if you look at it from a more typical viewing distance, it will appear exaggerated (i.e., things will appear to be farther apart from each other than they are), as the photographer probably intends.
     
  8. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    I prefer to view a print at about double the distance of the diagonal or so. It isn't a rule or anything that I know of, just seems about right.

    When my 8x10 contacts are hung, it is fun to overhear print sniffers, with their nose on my print- "Wow, that's incredible detail. I wonder what kind of printer he uses?" :smile:
     
  9. panastasia

    panastasia Member

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    I found myself viewing some original, very large, Brad Washburn ariel photos of mountains from just a few inches away (5 or 6). It was the only way to appreciate the fine detail (w/glasses off).

    P.S. I have a close cousin who helped design one of Mr. Washburns ariel camera film advance mechanisms - not such an easy task with LF roll film.
     
  10. panastasia

    panastasia Member

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  11. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Viewing a photograph (or painting or drawing) from much closer or further than the "correct" distance can change the intellectual and emotional experience. National Geographic uses wide-angle shots (necessarily viewed from beyond the distance for correct perspective) to involve the viewer with the subject. Telephoto shots provide a more detached and analytical view. When well done, these uses of perspective provide an unobtrusive enhancement of the viewing experience.
     
  12. hec

    hec Member

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    I've been taught that the right viewing distance is equal to the diagonal of the print, it works for me.

    Of course I have to confess that after viewing at the distance of the diagonal I sniff the print, call it critical viewing :D
     
  13. Rob Vinnedge

    Rob Vinnedge Member

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    Joe has it right. It doesn't matter how large the image is or how long or short the focal length was, if the image is engaging, my first tendency is to get close- real close- and then back up to wherever it feels right. Then again, sometimes I bob in and out several times.
     
  14. matti

    matti Member

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    Some older photography books seem fanatical about focal length/viewing distance. I wonder if people today are more accustomed to perspective flaws.
    /matti
     
  15. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    I was taught that the correct view distance is 1 1/2 times the diagonal.
     
  16. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    I like to get my nose up to the glass as well--I think that's what all photographers do as previously mentioned. I think we all want to get that itch out of the way first and really examine the print up close. Once I've gotten that out of the way, I will try to view it at a perspective that seems right for me and I think twice the diagonal is about right for me.
     
  17. clayne

    clayne Member

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    I'd somewhat generally agree with this but contend that it really much more so applies to wider angles (perhaps 50 and below on 35mm format). No matter how close or far (within reason) you are to something shot with a telephoto - it will never mimic natural perspective because of telephoto compression. But then again, "appropriate" doesn't necessarily equal "natural."
     
  18. Ian David

    Ian David Member

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    Not sure that is quite right. If you stand in the same place and take two photos of the same subject, one with a normal lens and one with a telephoto, the perspective will be the same in both shots. Perspective is a function of viewer position. The telephoto image is just a portion of the normal image. The telephoto compression effect is simply the result of effectively bringing that portion closer and filling the frame with it. If you stand far enough back from an image taken with a telephoto, the perspective should appear natural enough.
     
  19. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser

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    Don't forget the 10x magnifiying loupe.
     
  20. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser

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    It will, but if you hold the print in your hands it shouldn't be enlarged to more than postage stamp size. If taken with a 200 - 300mm lens, 35mm format, the perspective will appear normal on a contact sheet held at a normal ~10 inch viewing distance.

    A problem with the 'magic' distance is that the eyes pick up distance ques from the position of the eyeballs and the focusing of the eye - just like a rangefinder. If you are viewing a picture of mountains with the correct perspective part of the visual system will insist the mountain is 10" tall. Viewing a small print through a large magnifying glass - with all the geometry correct - can provide a startling 3-D view.

    Sinar had an example in their view camera book that provided a startling effect: a view down from the ceiling of a cathedral taken with a wide angle lens. When viewed with a magnifying glass at a distance so that the image filled the entire angle of view the effect was quite vertigo inducing.
     
  21. archphoto

    archphoto Member

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    Dear Paul,

    Years ago I was at an exibition in het Booymans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam about the dutch church painter Seanredam (1600).


    I was amazed to find out that he could have been the first LF architectural photographer even before photography was invented.
    His work shows so much depth.......

    Peter
     
  22. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Concerning the "natural" viewing perspective, perhaps the simplest way to naturally force the viewer to place him/herself at the correct distance is to contact print (???).... these massive enlargements (which seem to be all the rage now) just push people back, it seems to me. Contacts tend to cause people to view them at arms' length.

    How about this: when you go to a movie, where do you prefer to sit? Some folks like to sit right up front so that they are turning their heads to take in the scene. I did that once and actually felt a bit ...dizzy... after a while, but indeed one does feel "part of" the scene. Especially if the screen is curved (IMAX).

    I suppose this theory of natural viewing perspective perhaps doesn't take into account the neck muscles. A reasonable question might be whether one wants to take in the whole scene at once, or rather look around through it, exploratively, from left to right. There is nothing "unnatural" about that last option- we do look around when we view actual scenes in the real world, no? That becomes a bigger issue with pano aspect ratios, of course. I find that squares satisfy me the most, personally, because of the equal weighting of the whole, which causes me to think of it as a Whole rather than a collection of sub-subjects. Panos, which I admit that I am just now starting with, force an entirely different way of seeing.
     
  23. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    The thing that I see interesting here is the need to work backwards from the place the print will be and the intended viewing distance to the choice of lens and camera.

    To get the rough theoretical "best" perspective (that 3-D walk into the photo or vertigo inducing look) for a given viewing distance of say 1 meter where the planned print size is 1 meter creates a 1:1 ratio of format:focal length (35mm film:35mm lens, 645 format:56mm lens, 6x7 format:70mm lens, etcetera...)

    The "perfect" format to focal length ratio becomes basically a fixed value once the size and distance are known. This would be true of wall prints or billboards or wedding albums.

    This is the perfect argument for using fixed length lenses that match the intended viewing distance to print size ratio. Zooming/cropping with your feet becomes imperative to maintaining the perfect ratio.

    For me this also answers why the 85mm and 105mm lenses are so popular for portraits with 35mm cameras, it's the 8x10 prints that define the mass market. The short (un-cropped) edge 8" and the viewing distance of maybe 20" (roughly the distance hand held) = a 1:2.5 ratio. For 35mm multiply 35 by 2.5 and you get 87.5, for a hallway or desk setting, slightly longer than normal hand held distances you might get out to say a 105mm lens.

    Following this logic out one more step, if I want to sell bigger prints than 8x10's, say 20" prints on the long edge, a shorter focal length would be better for a "normal" viewing distance.

    For 35mm film, 35mm to 50mm lenses would theoretically create a "perfect" perspective for 16"x20" hallway prints or modern wedding album spreads (10"x20"). This same ratio pushes living room prints, with say a 5 foot planned viewing distance to have a long edge of about 42 to 60 inches.

    I like that; shoot normal to wide, get closer with the camera, sell bigger and better prints!