Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Perspective, Artistic Licence, and the Limitations of Photography.

I am intrigued by unusual perspectives. I'll illustrate using a couple of my paintings. To see the full size versions, please visit my Flickr page.

Courtyard Flat, Bath

This watercolour is entitled "Courtyard Flat, Bath'. In my Flickr description, I say'.....the perspective challenge interested me: when viewing the scene it is actually impossible to get all the elements shown into the picture at once photographically, without distortion'. This statement was quite legitimately queried, and here is the answer:
Notice the railings at the top right, over the jack arch. These railings continue around the front, along the sidewalk edge, in front of the basement well. Note also that the visual horizon is (more or less) exactly at the top edge of the picture. So, to get this picture without those railings would mean poking your camera between them at about two feet above the ground, and then you'd have to use a very wide angle lens to include the window on the left and the white cupboards on the right. Another thing is the sunshine illuminating the scene, which is just as important. To get the sun to shine in at this angle, first, you'd have to demolish a whole row of historic houses on the other side of the street. And then, you'd also have to shift geographically, which is better explained using a second painting. If you compare this picture with photos of the same scene (found in my ‘England’ set), you will see what I mean.

Here is another painting from Bath, in southwest England; latitude, about 52º north.

Pamela's Garden
The picture is called 'Pamela's Garden'. In this case, you could more easily reproduce the scene itself photographically, although I have taken some small artistic liberties to improve the composition. But that, in this case, is not the point. The photographic impossibility here is the light. Here, we are in fact looking to the west. To our left, the high wall seen in the top left of the picture extends right along to join the back wall of the house. The top would be perhaps eighteen feet above the courtyard floor. The sun begins to light up the courtyard just after noon, but doesn't truly shine in until much later in the day. Note the shadow cast by the top of the wall on the steps. See how high the sun is. Even in midsummer, it is impossible to have this much sun. Remember, we are in a latitude of 52º; (that's equivalent to being around the southern end of Hudson's Bay, to those of you who are not geometrically minded). To get this sunshine you'd have to be at least as far south as the Bahamas, say around 35ºN. I took similar (though less extreme) liberties with the sun when painting 'Courtyard Flat'.

Right now I am working on another perspective challenge. This one is more difficult still, as there are curved buildings involved, and the best vantage point to get the composition I want would be approximately 30 feet above the sidewalk. I lugged an aluminum stepladder to the scene so as to get as high as I could, then held a camera over my head to take reference photos, but that only brought my observation point to about ten or twelve feet above the sidewalk. I am still having to create in my mind the higher perspective that I need. A photographer will find something magical in an everyday scene and lead us to see it; but even the greatest photographer would be unable to capture this view in the same way.

1 comment:

Mineke Reinders said...

Fascinating thoughts, Andrew, in this and your previous posts. I really enjoy reading them! Your work shows your fascination with perspective (and you do an admirable job with it). Before reading what you wrote about "Pamela's Garden", it would never have occurred to me that the light in the painting couldn't have been that way in reality and hence in a photo. To me, that just shows that you use your artistic license and your imagination to create the scene the way you wanted it to look. It looks completely believable to me.
I can't wait to see your next painting, the one you got up the ladder for..