Compressed Perspective

Compressed perspective is the effect whereby two objects at a distance appear to be closer to one another than they really are. The effect is often associated with telephoto lenses but can equally be produced by both standard and wide-angle lenses. The phenomenon is most obvious when the perspective dominates the field of view.

The opposite effect is called exaggerated perspective and is produced by wide-angle lenses. Unlike compressed perspective, the effect cannot be produced by longer lenses.

Some articles incorrectly state that the effect is created by telephoto lenses. This is a myth. It is an illusion that is observed when a distant scene is viewed in isolation. This can be demonstrated by cropping a photo taken with a standard or even wide angle lens to show the distant objects in relation to one another, mimicking the effect of a telephoto lens.

An opposite effect can be seen in car wing mirrors, where in the US it is often accompanied by the warning “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”. The convex surface of the mirror produces a wide angle view that results in an exaggerated perspective.

The photo of four gravestones below was taken with a telephoto lens at a focal length of 230mm (35mm equivalent).

Compare this with the photo below, which was taken from exactly the same position, but with a focal length of 50mm and cropped to show just the four gravestones from the previous photo.

You can see the the perspective is almost identical. The uncropped photo is shown below.

By way of further comparison, if we move closer to the subject and use a 28mm wide-angle lens, the difference in perspective can be seen. The gravestones in the background now appear to be a lot further away.

In a second example, the photo below was taken with a telephoto lens with a focal length of 280mm.

A similar shot, again taken from the same position but with a 50mm lens and cropped to show the same scene, features the same perspective.

If we move closer to the tree and take a shot with a lens set to a focal length of 33mm, the perspective changes significantly.

In this shot the tree dominates the view and the house can hardly be seen. The perspective is completely different.

Focal lengths quoted are 35mm equivalent.  The two lenses used were an 18-55mm and 55mm-200m zoom. These are equivalent to 27-82mm and 82-300mm in full frame 35mm format.