Adding depth to an image is a particularly useful way to make more engaging photographs.

We live in a 3D world but we work in a 2D medium. Photography lets us tell stories with our cameras but sometimes, it’s nearly impossible for the camera to really help us capture what we see with our own two eyes. One way to help solve that problem is to add the appearance of depth to your landscape shots.

This can be accomplished in several ways. You can do everything from shooting in portrait mode verses horizontal mode, selecting a wide angle lens when the subject/camera distance is far apart or simply using the old fashioned rule of thirds – all these can help. I’ve used many of these techniques in the photo illustrating this post. But the simplest way to add depth to a photograph is to add areas of interest in the foreground, middle and background.

Building a strong relationship between the foreground and background creates the illusion of layering (sometimes called overlapping.) The eye comfortably (and subconsciously) moves from layer to layer exploring different parts of the image. This creates a feeling of depth. That depth is something that you sometimes can’t put your finger on, but chances are it’s one of things that strikes you about certain images that you enjoy more than others.

Let’s look more closely at this image I made at Reflection Lakes on Mt. Rainier. In the foreground, the last of the summer flowers hang on to anchor the bottom of the image and to add some color. As we move deeper into the image the clump of grass bottom left adds a slight point of interest leading to some reeds floating in the lake and through the reflection of the volcano from about one third to one half of the way through the scene.

On this day I was particularly lucky because there was a thin layer of mist on the horizon. While it’s not very pronounced there’s just enough of it to be visually interesting.

Beyond the mist is the forest of pine trees at the base of the mountain. Then we have the snow-covered mountain as the main subject framed by some clouds on the left and topped off by the blue sky at the top-center of the picture.

There are at least nine different elements in this photograph that claim portions of the beginning, middle and background. Usually I feel good if I can get five or six.

All these layers give the eye somewhere to go and will hold the viewer’s interest just a little longer than would be the case if any of these same layers were absent. By overlapping or layering objects, you help the viewer to reconstruct the scene in their mind. It appears more realistic to the viewer.

You may have to scout a little longer/harder to find scenes like this with interesting objects that run through the entire image, but if you’re lucky enough to find them and remember to include them in your compositions, you will find yourself making more pleasing photographs.