Reading time: 3:00 min | Dimensionality is inherent to our daily life. But we rarely understand its power outside parking a car.
There’s a buzzword in the interwebs when people talk about lenses, cameras, and pictures: 3D pop. With that term, people like to describe the impression that a subject in a picture “pops” in a three-dimensional fashion to the audience’s eyes. As with many subjective things, there are vocal 3D pop deniers who disregard 3D pop as a preposterous delusion of overly enthusiastic photography nerds.
It’s not. And it’s not even overly subjective. And it’s not only a thing of hardware. For further elaboration, I like to swap 3D pop for dimensionality because that’s the term that has been used in the past century before YouTubers took over the reign on the discourse on creativity.
When we humans see a picture, we look with two eyes at our environment. Thus, we have two perspectives on that environment, which our brain merges into one image. This picture includes reliable information about the space we are living in. But we also recognise single items in that 3D space, most notably other humans. They play a significant role in the picture because they exhibit an entity we crave so much for unconsciously: information. To understand how critical such items are, I suggest looking at a white wall. It won’t take more than 5 seconds, and we inevitably spot asymmetries and inequalities on that wall with growing joy. We are information junkies beyond any belief.
Information is vital to us but costs considerable processing power. Too much information will lead to an information overload and to a re-evaluation of its importance. Not enough information will leave us hungry.
Now back to dimensionality. Dimensionality in a picture can only exist if there’s an item of interest and a meaningful environment that surrounds that item, which also carries additional information. Partly, the gradient of dimensionality is determined by the interaction of the item/subject and the environment/background.
Thus, to experience dimensionality in pictures, we need a realistic impression to link the image to our daily experience of dimensionality. That includes a somewhat real picturing experience in terms of significance. In photographic terms, we are talking about a focus fall-off that resembles our live experience. Ideally, the subject is set firmly in focus, and the surrounding environment becomes more and more blurry accordingly to the depth of the motif.
A cut-out look that separates the subject starkly from the environment so that we can talk about front and background in terms of two entities would not create a distinct dimensionality. But if the picture is taken so that the surrounding environment and the subject are part of a realistic ensemble, dimensionality can kick in.
How a lens is rendering such situations makes a picture more dimensional or less. It can be a revelation comparing lenses from different manufacturers when all other things are equal. Focus fall-off, the rendering of proportions (faces look slimmer or more rounded), the contrast in out-of-focus areas, and so on play a visible role. Some lenses support dimensionality, and some lenses are great if a distinct flatness is on the table.
I have been reading the Old Man And The Sea recently again. Hemingway’s writing is capturing me still today. I link this to the dimensionality of his storytelling. His characters, the action, the environment he describes are believable, honest, likeable. The focus is on the characters, but the environment is equally important. From paragraph to paragraph, often set in changing settings, creating a plethora of inner-pictures similar to a great film – with tons of dimensionality.
Dimensionality can be found in music too. And there, too, it isn’t just a thing of the recording technology (stereo) but more a question of composition and mastering. There are leading voices, supporting instruments, rhythm section and whatnot which all can pay into a dimensional experience – or not.
Dimensionality in art comes with the artist’s understanding of reality and how we perceive our life. If we get that right, a great lens can amplify our intentions because great photography, like any art, is always storytelling, which benefits more than often from dimensionality.