Aerial Perspective in Composition
Aerial perspective is a technique that artists use in their drawings and paintings to give the illusion of the third dimension on a two-dimensional piece of paper or canvas. This method will create depth and atmosphere in your art. The way to achieve this effect is to keep your values, contrast, and details that are closest to the viewer stronger, while diminishing the values, contrast, and details the further you go back into the picture.
The concept of aerial perspective happens naturally in the world around us due to particles of dust and moisture in the air. These dust and water particles reduce visual contrast starting from the foreground and continuing to the background. The further back our line of sight goes, the more muted our visual perception becomes. A good example of this natural phenomenon can be found on a foggy day after a rainstorm.
In the painting below, "Cardsharps" by Caravaggio, notice how the two figures closest to the viewer have the highest amount of contrast and detail as well as strongest values. The man furthest in the background has muted values, lower contrast, and less detail to create the illusion of depth.
Painting below by Nick Alm demonstrating aerial perspective
Painting above by Ryan S. Brown demonstrating aerial perspective.
Photograph above by Annie Leibovitz demonstrating aerial perspective in composition.
In the landscape painting above, “View from the Grounds of Penrhyn Castle looking towards Nant-Ffrancon" by George Fennel Robson, observe how the values, details, colors, and contrast appear more muted the further you go back into the scene. This image demonstrates the use of aerial perspective to enhance the illusion of the third dimension on a two-dimensional surface.
Drawing above by Michael Grimaldi demonstrating aerial perspective.