Sunday, January 1, 2012

Adventures of Han Solo, the Lego Guy in forced perspective photography

Ambiguous perspective toilet paper, by Leah Griffiths

A few months ago, my friend Leah posted the above picture online.  It was completely unedited except for some cloning of carpet in the front, but it sure looks like that roll of toilet paper is the same size as our friend Josie!  She must really have something to be sad about if she needs all that toilet paper!  Of course in actuality, the toilet paper was just a regular old sized roll, but a special technique had been used to photograph it.  It was called forced perspective.  I'm sure you've had experience with it!  Maybe you've taken a picture of your daughter, only to look at it later and find that it looks as if the person behind her is standing on her head.  Or maybe you've taken a picture of grandma looking sideways and laughing, but it seems as if she's about to swallow whole the head of the kid standing behind her.  

This is all caused by the way light is bent through a camera lens.  It's more likely to happen on a bright day, when the aperture of your camera is at a very high number, which is a very tiny hole.  When light passes through the aperture, the depth of field can be very deep.   This is why we take landscape pictures at high apertures: so everything, the foreground, middle ground and background can all be in focus.   This doesn't happen with a very wide aperture because the light bends so much that the depth of field is very shallow, meaning that maybe only one or two feet of area are in focus, rather than a very deep area.  This is often what causes a very blurred background with a crisp foreground.

By moving in closer to my hand I was able to make the sun appear to be a small "Pearl of Great Price"  The closer you get to things in the foreground, the larger they appear in relation to what is behind them.  If you can achieve sharp focus, which I could because the sun provided direct light for this shot, go closer.  There are lots of examples of shots of the sun where people are pretending it's a ball they are kicking or holding.  The possibilities are endless.  Just DON'T LOOK through the LENS!!!!  You can blind yourself because the lens of the camera focus the sun's rays onto your retina.  Just aim and look at the LCD later.  Consider yourself warned.  Be a good little photographer.  You want your eyes!
When we use forced perspective, we take advantage of a very large depth of field, allowing things that are close to be in similar focus to things that are quite far away.  We can set our camera at a high aperture and appropriate ISO and shutter speed, or if we have an automatic, we can use landscape mode, which will do all of that for us.  This will achieve a great depth of field, meaning that very deep into the frame we will see apparent focus.  If we step back from our subject a bit, decreasing magnification, we find that the depth of field is increased even more.  If we go closer to the subject, magnifying it, we'll find that it will become less focused.  These principals are key to making forced perspective work.  

I used a handsome Han Solo lego guy.  He might actually have been too small to be a great example of forced perspective, but I was dying to see if I might be able to succeed in making him look bigger.  A lego guy is about two inches tall, but  I was hoping to make him seem to be 6 inches up to 3 feet tall.  Trying this out in reality was a lot trickier than it was in my mind!  The toilet paper picture made it seem so simple, but I remember now that it took Leah quite a lot of tries to get it just right.  Plus, a toilet paper roll is a lot bigger to begin with.  

Here's Han Solo out in the back field.  He's just standing on a fencepost here.  
When I looked at my pictures, I really wasn't happy with them, but they are still decent examples.  I think I'll do it again on a very bright day so my ISO won't have to be so high.  That would make the photo less grainy.  Also, I would stand back more from the lego guy to help him be in focus.  And definitely I'd try out a zoom lens.  Zoom lenses have the effect of appearing to compressing things in your depth of field, making them look like they're right on top of each other.  If you've ever taken a picture of someone in front of a crowd of people, then later realized it seemed more like a "Where's Waldo," you might have been noticing apparent compression.  The perspective isn't really changed when you switch lenses, it's just that a zoom lens forces you to step back in order to get more in the picture, thus helping you achieve a greater depth of field.  This in turn helps to skew the perspective so that the things in the foreground and background appear closer.
Han Solo thought he'd better show his Jedi moves .  Here, his hands are holding fence wire.  
Han Solo, actual size, with a goat ready to eat him.  
Below I share my pictures and explain how they are created.  They were taken with my 35mm f1.8 lens.  I kept the aperture at anywhere from f11-f22.  I hope you'll post links to pictures you did after seeing these!  Tomorrow in our photography class,  I'll have the kids try out forced perspective.  Here's the assignment from Leah's teacher that I was following, and will ask the kids to do.  You should try it too!  

1) Collect objects that represent the world in miniature, such as figurines, toys, game pieces or ornaments.  
2)  Photograph the objects in away that changes the viewer's sense of their scale.  Try placing the objects in an unusual context or shifting the level of the camera or perspective.
3) Crop the photographs to enhance the apparent ambiguity

May the force be with me while i go walk with the alpacas.  Mr Solo is standing on a fence post.  
Now he's with the goats herding them.  Again he's on the fencepost.

About to do some alpaca wrangling, he thought he'd jump over this bar to grab a hold of the fur.  

Han Solo climbs a craggy mountain.  I placed him slanted on a rock and cropped out any thing like grass or leaves which would show the size of the rock or lego dude.  
Hitching a ride with the 3 legged doggie.  Here I'm holding Han by the head.

He was hanging around on a high bar waiting to jump on the monster chicken.  He has prevailed and shall have a new mode of transport.  He's just holding onto a regular fence with me looking down on him and the chicken.  This is the stance for all pictures until i say so.  
Bored with the jerky walk of the chicken, he opted for the swiftness of a monster dog and hopped from special high wires.  

Alas, the dog smelled something fun and didn't go anywhere.

He found a sweet girl who let him stand on her head.  

She wanted to keep him.
He was stuck like glue to that fence!

The dog was impressed that the little man had magically become as big as the little girl.  She scolded him to be kind

The little girl told her friend about Han Solo and his big muscles.  How DOES he hang around all day like that?  
They thought they would show off to him by trying to jump higher than his bar
taking a bow and being sufficiently satisfied with her jumping skills, the friend left.

The little girl was tired of the Lego guy showing her up.  In this picture, I am laying on the road. looking down a hill at the little girl.   I can't remember if I am holding the lego guy or if he's standing on the ground.  I am very close to him, so he is blurry.  I used a blurring brush on the little girl to make them seem similar in size.

Lego guy was beginning to feel a little left out.  Here, lego guy is standing on a rock that is higher than the road, and i am looking down the hill at the girl.  Having the two subjects on a slope is imperative to make this work.  Also, being at eye level with the bottom of the front subject is necessary, thus the rock.

They stood together for a while.  (same setup as before)

The lego guy began to feel small.  The girl tried to squish him.
Feeling a little remorseful for how she treated the lego guy, the girl takes a moment of silence.

Lego guy notices impending disaster.  A fireball in the sky!  (In this shot, WITHOUT LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS EVER, I placed the lego guy on a ledge and pointed the camera up from behind him towards the sun.  The small aperture made the sun show up, but I did lower the exposure greatly, increased the contrast and reduced the highlights in post processing.  

The fireball is getting closer.  Its heat is too great.  It begins to knock over lego guy.  In this shot, i am below and lego guy is held to a ledge with putty.

Lego guy begins to rein in the power of the fireball

The ball shrinks a bit and is more manageable.  For these shots WITHOUT LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS I positioned Han Solo on a railing with the sun behind.  I was below him.

Lego guy kicks it into the air

Lego guy has a new toy.  The fireball.

Han Solo got bored with the fireball.  He went inside to play with another small child.  For this and the following shots, Han Solo is  standing at the top of my staircase.  I am at eye level with him.  

"He's actual size, but he seems much bigger to me..."  This is a perspective to show how small he really is.

Sitting for a chat.  Maia is about 4 feet behind lego guy.  He's still on the edge of the stairs. 
On a date with barbie.  For this one, Barbie is sitting about 3 feet back on my porch on a box, which you can see through the crack.  Han Solo is sitting right on the edge of the porch.  I am down the stairs.

On a date with Barbie, this time on the picnic table.  Han Solo is on the edge of the table.  Barbie is sitting on a box that's 4 inches tall.  I am below the edge of the table.  

Indiana Jones style, running away from a giant boulder, which is actually a small nerf ball.  I made the nerf ball look bigger by putting it closer to the edge of the table and placing han solo on the box barbie had been on, using putty to hold him up.  I'm below the edge of the table.

Here he is "holding a large ball"  It's just placed behind him .  He is held up with putty.  

trying to catch a ball, he falls off a ledge.  This is a nerf ball at the farthest end of the table.  He's at the closest end held with putty. 

Here, lego guy says farewell.   He's pushing the indiana jones boulder out of the road.  He's actually on a slide.  The ball is held with putty higher up on the slide close to me.  Han Solo is held further down the slide with putty.  


  1. I think you had WAY too much fun!!!!! Love them! My favorites are the jumping ones with the "bar", ALL the subtitles, and the last few where you had the ISO higher so it was more believable because of the same amount of focus.


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