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An urban aquascape (and a short lesson in creating depth perception)

By Leonard Ho - Posted Oct 11, 2017 09:00 AM
Yay or nay? Whether or not you are a fan of this unconventional aquascape, you can't deny the aquascaper has skillfully created depth perception using a combination of techniques such as aerial perspective, relative size, and converging parallel lines.

This interesting aquascape is actually a textbook lesson in the art of creating the illusion of depth.  Whether you are a freshwater or saltwater aquascaper, there are a few simple aquascaping techniques anyone can employ to make their aquariums look deeper than they really are:

  • Aerial perspective: Go outside and look at a faraway object.  You'll notice distant objects look fainter with less contrast and a blue or indigo haze.  This aquascaper understands the principle of aerial perspective.
  • The balance of light and shadow:  Many aquascapers think that foreground objects should be more well-illuminated, but this actually robs the sense of depth.  In this aquascape, you can see the foreground is darker while the background is brighter.  Your eyes are drawn from the dark foreground (sides) to the light background (middle), tricking your brain into seeing depth.
  • Positioning of relative size: I see many aquarists placing the big aquascaping elements at the back of their tanks. But if you want to create the illusion of depth, you really want to do the opposite.  Think about it: Objects that are close appear bigger and vice versa.  When you place bigger objects up front and smaller objects in the back, you can exaggerate relative size and thus exaggerate depth perception.
  • Converging parallel lines:  Look down a long, straight road.  The further down the road you look, the more the parallel lines converge until they eventually come together into a "vanishing point."  With careful placement, you can recreate this form of perspective in your aquarium as well.  This particular urban aquascape benefits from some highly visible converging nines.
  • Occultation:  In three-dimensional spaces filled with multiple objects, nearer objects will invariably overlap and block the line of sight of objects behind them.  When you aquascape, resist the urge to place all elements front and center (e.g. placing all corals visible from the front view).  In fact, you should aim to hide objects behind other objects to create the illusion of depth.  Seasoned reefkeepers will remember the days of  dreaded, flat-looking "fruit-stand" aquascaping, which is exactly the problem occultation solves.


Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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