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Learn the Basics of Perspective to Create Drawings That Pop Off the Page

Introduction to Atmospheric Perspective

Linear perspective is based on mathematics and straight lines, but atmospheric perspective relies on something entirely different. Also called aerial perspective, it conveys depth through value changes, colors, and visual clarity.

One of the best ways to illustrate atmospheric perspective is in a landscape photograph. Imagine you’re viewing a mountainscape far in the distance. The formations closest to you will look the most colorful and in the greatest detail. As the mountains appear farther away, they have a dull, bluish cast covering them.

How does this happen? In atmospheric perspective, water, vapor, and even smog affect what you see. As there’s more distance between you and a form, the increased particles result in less visual contrast. It also has to do with color wavelength. Blue color waves tend to bounce around these particles, which is why things take on this hue from long distances.

A post shared by Adem Potaş (@adempotas) on

This idea, that things closer to you are brighter and easier to see, goes hand-in-hand with values in compositions. Things that are high contrast (a combination of light tones and dark tones) are more eye-catching than low contrast. In the above painting by artist Adem Potaş, the trees in the backdrop practically disappear because their tone is nearly the same as the rest of the sky.


Next: Learn how to create your own perspective drawings.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met and Manager of My Modern Met Store. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.

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