In this tutorial, we will look at photographs as well as drawn examples to familiarize ourselves with the basic principles of perspective and how it can affect your drawings.
Perspective can be used to suggest the illusion of 3D elements on a 2D canvas. When perspective is ‘off’ in a drawing, even untrained eyes will notice. Using basic perspective techniques will allow you to manipulate your compositions to your favour; even giving fictional drawings a sense of realism.
Let’s make a New (Cmd+N) canvas and get started. I’ve drawn a figure to spice up the canvas a little.
We’ll begin with a ‘one-point’ perspective. A drawing anywhere on Earth would likely have a ‘horizon line’ in it, whether it is off the canvas or not. In the example below we’ve got a very standard horizon line near the center of the image. In addition to a horizon line, we need a ‘vanishing point’. When drawing one-point perspective, we have one vanishing point where all the z-axis lines join up, shown in the example below as ‘VP’, with the horizon line illustrated as ‘HL’. All lines going in the same direction (parallel) would follow the line angles converging towards the vanishing point.
If we were to draw a box and prism, the x-axis and y-axis would be drawn as normal (black squares in the example), but lines going along the z-axis would follow the perspective lines angled towards the vanishing point.
Changing the horizon line can give our composition some more ground space to view and may be more effective in situations where we would depict land masses or communicate designs from a more top-revealing angle. The vanishing point stays in the same x-axis position on the horizon line, moving upwards with it as shown in the example.
If we try moving the horizon line down, it can present an opportunity for portraying tall details such as skies, birds, skyscrapers, aircraft, or just about anything else you can imagine. This will give the composition less focus on the ground and a more human point of view should the horizon line be at eye-level such as street or roadside drawing.
Can you guess where the horizon line and vanishing point is?
Sorry, that was a waste of a step. Even without the forms though, we can see where the lines eventually converge to – the vanishing point. We can’t establish the horizon line very well from looking at the piece, but as you can see, it gives us a more top-down view.
You may have noticed, that the further from the vanishing point we go (in this case, lower down), the more top-down the view becomes, seemingly flattening the shape faces slightly.
If we take it a step further to the point where the lines appear to barely even converge towards a vanishing point, it may appear almost completely top-down like a building plan. Generally you probably won’t come to draw with this view as often as the previous ones but knowing how the top-down effect kicks in can really help when exploring your own views in your perspective-driven designs.
You might be wondering how I’m drawing these lines. We’ll draw a two-point perspective now just to see how! We learned earlier that one-point perspective is one vanishing point; therefore we’ll draw a second vanishing point here to make this a two-point perspective.
We’ll start to draw the second vanishing point now. As with the first vanishing point, this will be on a New Layer (Cmd+Shift+N) to let us manipulate the rest of the image. I’ve started with a normal hard circle brush at 4px, holding Shift before painting the line (red) to snap it to a common angle – in this case directly downwards.
I want to spike out some lines but as a right hander I’m not very good at drawing from top left to bottom right or vice versa. Therefore to speed things up, the canvas is flipped by choosing Image > Rotate Canvas > Flip Canvas Horizontal. You may have noticed that it’s bound to the hotkey F1 in my example, which would be by default assigned to an external Photoshop Help link. You can assign hotkeys this one by choosing Window > Workspace > Keyboard Shortcuts & Menus and clicking the Keyboard Shortcuts tab.
Wow that’s not a straight line. It’s OK if it something goes wrong, it’s just us practicing twice as much as everybody else. If it does turn out like a curve graph from a science experiment, just undo it (Cmd+Z) and try again. The other vanishing point is on a new layer, which gives us the option to hide it while we work on this second vanishing point.
Eleventh time’s always a charm.
If at first you don’t succeed, use the Free Transform Tool (Cmd+T).
You may rotate the line by Left-clicking the mouse when the cursor changes upon hovering just outside a corner of the Free Transform bounding box.
Finish some more lines until you are comfortable with it. We’ll flip the canvas back by clicking Image > Rotate Canvas > Flip Canvas Horizontally. I’ve also lowered the opacity of the two vanishing point layers to make it easier to see what we’re about to do.
The lines going into the distance (red) go towards the first vanishing point as with the one-point perspective drawing (step 3).
Look at the dotted red lines in the example; we can see where the corners of the next face would be (circled). Here’s where your psychic projection powers come in – some imagination here helps to picture where the lines and face would go. If it looks correct in your head, you’re probably on the right track.
If we proceed to draw the parallel lines (red) going towards the second vanishing point (VP2), we’ve got a perfect join to the previously circled corners – the two ends of the previous dotted line.
This technique works even on complicated symmetrical shapes, provided there are parallel lines. If we look at the example below-from the initial corner circled in red-we can simply follow it along the first perspective lines (black) until it hits the other vanishing point (labeled "collide" in example), from which it will then follow the second vanishing point’s perspective lines (red) back down, stopping at the point where it is horizontally parallel alongside the horizon (pink). I made it sound much more complicated than it is, check out the image.
Doing this for all the points gives us perfect locations for each corner.
Complete the dot-to-dot process but notice that the verticals (pink) still angle perfectly upwards, everything facing the sky in two-point perspective is a vertically straight line, anywhere on the page (as long as it was built to face upwards like a traditional building or cabinet edge).
If we add any more lines along the x-axis or z-axis, they must follow to the appropriate vanishing points, as shown in the example.
Often when putting both vanishing points in the same canvas, it creates a very tight view like in the example below.
To counter this, it is a good idea to throw one of our vanishing points much further down the line so the perspective isn’t as strong and we can see the object in a very different way. Since we can’t see the vanishing point, it’s harder to draw correctly. An efficient way to draw a set of lines here are to simply draw a set of horizontal lines first to manipulate. Remember to hold Shift when brushing to snap your initial direction until you finish the stroke.
Then, using Free Transform (Cmd+T) and Left-Clicking the corners, distort the lines as you see fit.
Important: At least one horizontal line (red) must align with the horizon line (green) otherwise the perspective won’t work.
Now we’ll draw a similar shape, except without the wide-angle lens effect that closer vanishing points bring. Pushing our vanishing points further out like this replicates how our eyes perceive images much more realistically. Remember that the z-axis lines (red) go towards one vanishing point and the x-axis lines (blue) go towards the other – in this case, the imaginary vanishing point off the canvas.
Very nice. This low horizon line could reinforce a low point of view such as buildings being seen from human eye-height.
Let’s try raising the horizon line to see how that affects our composition.
The lengths of the verticals practically stay the same in the example but the locations of the vertical lines change slightly to conform to the perspective lines.
Again, the z-axis and x-axis follow the conventions of pointing towards their vanishing points.
This high horizon line strengthens the illusion of looking down at the object and could be effective in displaying a view from a high point such as a hotel balcony.
Now let’s try a three-point perspective. This will be exactly the same as two-point perspective with an additional vanishing point that isn’t on the horizon line. We’ll start off with a standard box in two-point perspective.
Using the same technique as Step 24, create some lines that suggest a very high vanishing point such as in the example below.
This new vanishing point represents the angles that verticals in our drawing follow.
If there were multiple grounded boxes in a three-point perspective drawing, there can be a new set of x-axis and z-axis vanishing points for each differently rotated box. However, notice that the verticals will always without fail, follow the same vertical vanishing point provided they are facing upwards the same in real life. This will apply when you’re drawing standard buildings, walls, cupboards, etc.
We can simply erase the vertical lines and re-draw them from the bottom to follow the direction of the third vanishing point in the sky. With three-point perspectives, there are excellent senses of scale as with real life where distant objects decrease in scale.
As you can see, raising the horizon line is very effective with a low third vanishing point, creating a slight vertigo sensation to the composition. You could imagine taking this a step further by pulling the vanishing point closer to the horizon line, giving it a more extreme perspective. Using it in moderation though such as in the example below is a very effective way to give your drawing a tasty nuance of perspective.
Look, look. Cool, huh? Above all, try it out yourself!
Let’s have a look at how perspective can be spotted in photos. Thankfully in this photo there is a gridded floor which makes it easier to spot the x-axis and z-axis lines in the floor. As a standard-looking photograph it likely has a third perspective but it is very hard to spot with few clues to verticals in the scene.
Source: Photographer’s portfolio
In this street shot, the windows of the building to the left (green) gives us an excellent set of lines to measure the z-axis (going forwards into the street). The wall to the right (green) also has neat inlets to help us see where that same vanishing point would be.
Source: Photographer’s portfolio
The building looks right-angled, so if we assume that the constructers did a fantastic job building it with a 90-degree angle, the windows to the left (yellow) and other side of the wall to the right (yellow) show us the direction of the x-axis. There is also a very prominent third vanishing point in the sky. We can establish this because of all the tall buildings giving away the angles of the verticals in the image. This perspective is similar to the one we tackled in Step 35.
In this photo, the most obvious vanishing point is probably the one just off the top of the screen. The road and long buildings (green) give away this vanishing point easily.
Source: Photographer’s portfolio
The x-axis is a little harder to spot but with help of the parallel trio of larger buildings to the left (yellow), we can see how the vanishing point is very far away to the right, barely showing signs of converging. There is also a hint of a third perspective (pink) if we look at the verticals on some of the larger buildings and the two buildings to the top right of the photograph.
A lot of the buildings here are non-parallel like the cubes in Step 34, but the sides of the streets (green and yellow) have their individual angles that give away their z-axis quite easily as highlighted in the example.
Notice again that the verticals, however, all follow the same third vanishing point because although they are rotated diversely, they all have verticals facing the same direction.
Let’s do a simple drawing that incorporates some of the things we’ve learned. Here, lines along the x-axis are shown in red and the y-axis in blue. We haven’t drawn the z-axis lines yet because that’s the depth; where the shape goes into the distance and we haven’t utilized that vanishing point yet, though it can be seen in the example. We’ll do each axis of lines on a New Layer (Cmd+Shift+N or Cmd+Shift+N) to give us more working flexibility.
Time to add some depth with lines pointing towards the third vanishing point (green).
Now to establish a width we’ll draw the rest of the lines (red and blue), where we can then get rid of the excessive z-axis (green) lines.
Assuming the green lines are on their own layer, in the Hue/Saturation (Cmd+U or Cmd+U) window, turn the lightness of the layer down to zero and it should turn black.
Then finally some eye-candy colour behind the line-art.
Maybe throw in a background, some pretty polishing touches and voila! A super quick perspective drawing, fully acceptable in a professional environment. That is, if the company you work for consists of just you.
It is very easy to spot perspectives in parallel structures wherever they are. You can see how basic perspectives can be drawn easily once the foundations are memorized in here (I’m pointing to my head at the moment… Which co-incidentally has an external hard-drive taped to it). People who look at your drawings have been used to seeing human perspective since they were born, so sloppy perspective will throw them into an unstoppable trance (sometimes). If that doesn’t happen then they will just notice ‘something off’ about your drawing. So learn these basic-level perspective principles and practice drawing some buildings. Just make sure that your lines are drawn to the appropriate vanishing points. Start off with some squared chairs and tables!
I hope you’ve learned something in this tutorial – feel free to comment any questions or your own samples!
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