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There are several visual clues we use every day to judge the distance or depth of an object. The illusion of depth can be created in two-dimensional art by mimicking the way objects appear in real life when they recede into three-dimensional space. You can adjust the color saturation, the contrast in value and the sharpness of individual elements to mimic Atmospheric Perspective in order to create the illusion of depth in your work.

Atmospheric Perspective Visual Cues

Things that are closer have…

  • More detail and sharper focus
  • More vivid (saturated) colors
  • Darker darks and lighter highlights (a greater range of value)
  • Are larger than objects in the distance
  • Often overlap smaller objects in the distance

Things that are further back…

  • Lose saturation in color
  • Lose the extremes of value (both dark and light) … low contrast
  • Become blurrier or less sharp
  • Are smaller than objects that are closer
  • Often are visually obscured by objects that are closer

Why does this happen?

We live on a planet that has a thick atmosphere with lots of water vapor in it. Water is blue and absorbs some of the light. Objects that are further away have more “air stuff” in between them and your eyes. That means less of the light particles reach your eye’s rods and cones. Therefore, less information is available and our brains perceives these distant objects as fuzzy, less colorful and dull. This natural phenomenon can be used to your benefit in your creative projects.