I recently came back from a visit to Tikal, a mayan ruin filled with majestically tall structures and vertigo inducing panoramic views when looking down from on top.

Unfortunately, my (and other's) photos of the site don't seem to it justice - they look "flat" almost as if the site were a small toy replica. I noticed this is a problem with other impressive landscapes as well.

So here are my questions:

  • Is there an optical explanation behind this perceived "flatness" in the images?
  • Are there any best practices for shooting "deeper" landscapes?
  • Are there specific lens better suited for this task (say fisheye), and can their effect be simulated in post-processing?

enter image description here

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Closer / wider / lower will perhaps achieve more like what you want. Look at the various shots in the images you cited and see if any does what you want better than others and try to work out why. If none do you may be in trouble :-). I'd have thought that eg this image does a reasonable job of what you wanted - how well does that do what you want - and in what ways does it fall short? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 6:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ This page claims to show the world's best photos of Tikal. Which if any meet your spec? | This ? or this? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 6:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon - the third comes close, though still not quite there :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 7:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Here are some 'snapshots' of mine of Candi Borobadur in Java in Indonesia. Borbadur is probably similar scale and nature to Tikal to allow comparisons to be made. I'd be interested in knowing how well any of these meet your spec. NB - you are very unlikely to insult me with comments on these photos so feel free to make such observations as seem fitting. These are a 'trip record' - a small portion of the vast number taken there. Chosen as a cross section and not as an attempt to impress on photographic merit (or not vastly so anyway :-) ). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 8:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ A wider angle lens would always be useful. "When" I get an A99 FF my ff Minolta 17-35mm will assume the wideness that Minolta always intended. Till then ... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 8:36

2 Answers 2


There are some things that two dimensional photos have trouble doing. One of them is portraying a place we experience in three dimensions and translating that place into two dimensions without something being lost along the way. OMNIMAX/IMAX Dome theaters try to deal with it by curving the screen around the viewer so that the visual experience includes the entire field of vision of the viewer (when looking straight ahead) and then add immersive surround sound to the equation. Another method used for still images is the Gigapan approach. By making a large panoramic image that the viewer can zoom into and see particular elements of the image at high resolution and then pan around it gives a better sense of 'being there'.

As far as more traditional photos of such vistas are concerned, there are a couple of things you can try.

  • Use a larger viewing size. When I view your example in the question at the 1600x681 pixel resolution you uploaded it instead of at the resolution it is reduced to when displayed at 630x268 embedded in the question, I see much less of the 'miniature effect'. When I enlarge it to 400% and pan around inside the image I see no 'miniature effect'.
  • Avoid over-sharpening. Sharpening should be based on the intended viewing size. If you heavily sharpen an image and then view it at a smaller size, it will appear 'unnatural' to your eyes.

Is there an optical explanation behind this perceived "flatness" in the images?

It is not so much optical as it is psychological. We don't really "see" with just our eyes. We really see with our brains. Our brain assembles all of the bits and pieces of a scene that our eyes send to it and combines it with other physical sensations we experience simultaneously. A photo that can induce vertigo is rare, and usually involves some kind of trickery that fools our brain, rather than our eyes. This one from Eric James illustrates the concept.

enter image description here

Rotate the photo 180° and you get nowhere near the same effect.

Are there any best practices for shooting "deeper" landscapes?

Try to include some nearer objects as well as the distant vista in the scene. In the example image above, getting the shoes in focus meant sacrificing some sharpness in the cityscape beyond. Don't become so concerned that everything is perfectly focused with infinite depth of field if your primary concern is creating an effect that provokes a particular emotion, rather than documenting everything in the scene. The general rules of composition also apply. For example, you can use converging lines to draw the eyes of the viewer to the peak of one of the pyramids. You could also use the rule of thirds to place that peak at one of the intersections of the imaginary grid lines that divide the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Then use color contrast if possible, etc.

Are there specific lens better suited for this task (say fisheye), and can their effect be simulated in post-processing?

This may be a question of artistic preference, but I personally am drawn more to wide angle landscape images that are corrected to a rectilinear projection, rather than a fisheye projection. There are software tools that can do either: correct mild barrel or fisheye distortion to rectilinear projection or take a rectilinear view and make it look like it was taken with a fisheye lens. In both cases some of the original frame will be cropped off if the final image remains rectangular. Sometimes a lot of the original image will be cropped in the correction.


Depth of obvious to us in the 3D world but when things get translated into 2D via photography, we lose depth-perception and the brain must therefore interpret signs in the images in order to see its depth.

  • The primary perception of depth in photographs are objects at different distances. As our eye sees these objects in diminishing size, we interpret them as being placed in 3D.
  • The secondary one is light and shadows. When shadows are visible, instead of being non-exesitant on a cloudy day or behind for front-lit subjects, we see depth more easily.
  • Field-of-view is important too and wide-angle rectilinear lenses give a sense of depth because they make the perspective more pronounced.

Using a projection to form a panorama with a wider field-of-view actually removed perspective and flattens the scene. Incidentally, I happen to have taken a 360° of Tikal in completely flat light and you can see that it looks like a painting rather than real 3-dimensional location. The light was better the day before for the 180° view but because the field-of-view is so wide, perspective is flattened out. Had I wanted to get emphasize perspective, I would have taken a photo of the pyramid or path close up and uses a focal-length around 16mm (APS-C) or 24mm (full-frame).


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