Trompe l’oeil in photography: how to play with perspective and deceive the eye

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Trompe l’oeil, or trick of the eye, is a popular compositional technique that can add some fun to your photography – think of tourists propping up the leaning tower of Pisa.

There are endless ways to do it, and it’s easy to do, but it does take time to find the right subjects and angles for really convincing shots.

Trompe l'oeil in photography: how to play with perspective and deceive the eye

The key to trompe l’oeil is to trick the viewer into thinking that the objects you’re shooting are interacting, despite there being a good distance between them, so finding the perfect angle is crucial.

You also need to think about your location – an empty horizon that’s free of distracting elements will make the effect feel more believable.

We headed to Brandon Hill in Bristol with our models Claire and Hollie to experiment, and we’ll walk you through the basics of the trompe l’oeil technique.

How to create a trompe l’oeil illusion in-camera

How to create a trompe l'oeil illusion in-camera: step 1

01 Pick a narrow aperture
Both your subjects must be in focus to make shots like the one of the girl and tower work, so use a narrow aperture like f/22. You’ll need to decrease your shutter speed to compensate, but if you’re shooting outside on a sunny day, ISO100 and a shutter speed of 1/100 sec should be fine.

 

How to create a trompe l'oeil illusion in-camera: step 2

02 Line up the action
Get your model to pose – if you’re using two people, stand one about ten metres behind the other – and find an angle that makes your subjects look perfectly aligned. Focus on a point between them and shoot. Check on the back of the camera that they are both fully in focus.

 

Trompe l'oeil in photography: how to play with perspective and deceive the eye

03 Get creative with perspective
Bring along props from home and let your imagination run wild. Forced perspective doesn’t always have to be humorous, it can be used for arty photographs too. Try creating a shot like this one of a dancer with a rose for a skirt – we knocked out the background with a wider aperture of f/8 to create a dreamy, surreal effect.

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