This is part of a series of Instructables intended for teachers about educating students in the classroom around making and tinkering. For more about the details of this project, check out our blog.
Forced perspective photography is a great way to get kids thinking creatively and engaged in making fun scenes and stories. They will do amazing things when you hand them a camera (in addition to taking a billion selfies). There is also a lot of math and science content in this activity in terms of thinking about distance, proportionality and the way our brains perceive the world.
This is a fun and light activity and is best done outside when the weather is nice - it is possible to do inside, but the effect is much greater in a wide open space such as a field or playground.
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Step 1: Materials Needed
This is a relatively simple activity to do with few materials. At minimum, you'll need a camera of any type, preferably one that has zoom functionality. A cell phone camera will work fine, or digital camera. Other things you might want to have on hand:
- We use Polaroid Z2300 Instant Print cameras. Kids love the novelty of polaroids, and the benefit of these is they get a printed photo to take home (Polaroid no longer manufactures them but they are available on Amazon and eBay occasionally)
- Polaroid ZINK refills for the camera
- SD Card (2GB is fine) for the camera
- Props of any sort - paper cutouts are great to have kids color or they can draw their own. Use what you have lying around.
- If you do cutouts, popsicle sticks and tape or glue are a must so that your hand doesn't show up in the photographs
- A wide open space outside or large interior space (a gym would work well)
Step 2: Forced Perspective Photography Overview and Examples
Setting up your shot is the most important part of forced perspective photography. Really, any photograph that you take in which you use the distance between objects to vary their size in proportion to each other is forced perspective. Important terms to take away from this activity are foreground, background, and proportions. If you put something twice as far away as something else, it will look twice as small. The inverse is true as well.
From the NYSCI site linked below: "There are other things that affect how you judge distances. Your brain gets clues from how objects overlap, how they interact with the background, or whether things are in focus. Controlling for these things can make the forced perspective trick work better." These are good considerations when thinking about how to compose a shot.
For actually taking the photos, have the kids work in groups of at least 3 - one is the photographer, one student does the foreground work, and the other does the background work. Don't have them get so far away from each other when doing the actual photo taking that they can't hear each other, and have them plan their composition out before heading outside to take photos. Ask what challenges they might encounter, how far apart they think they might need to be, etc.
If you want to add a measuring component into this activity, a measuring tape is probably not long enough. Get something like a Rolatape measuring wheel an you will be able to calculate the size of something based on its distance from the camera. You'll want use a smaller ruler or measuring tape to get the size of small props.
Here are some great examples of this technique that I like to show students before taking photos to give them a few ideas:
50 Nifty Forced Perspective Photographs - some on this page aren't terribly appropriate for kids, so pull them off the page to show rather than just pulling it up.
Forced Perspective in Film - Lord of the Rings - this process is used a lot in film, the video here is a great way to show how these shots are set up and is a practical application for this activity.
NYSCI Size Wise - This site has some concise math concerning the perspective and proportionality of this technique - I do not believe the app is widely available for use, but looks really cool!
Step 3: How to Operate the Z2300 Camera
If you are using a cellphone camera or other type, you can skip this step.
I chose this camera because it was the best balance between functionality and ease of use that Polaroid makes. Their cheaper cameras don't have the selection screen and ability to zoom in. They cost about $120 on Amazon.com, have the ability to take lots of photos on an SD card and then select which ones to print, and are pretty tough.
You'll need an SD card for the camera - 2GB is totally enough for lots of photos, use what you have though. For classroom facilitations it's very important that you charge the cameras before using them! One downside to these cameras is the printing feature uses a lot of battery, I usually charged the cameras between each class and during any other breaks.
The manual for this camera is attached above, but here's a quick rundown of how to use it and some pitfalls to avoid. Make sure that students use the wrist strap at all times, they will definitely drop the camera if they do not!
To take photos, turn the camera on using the power button on the top. Ensure that the Playback/Video/Photo button selection switch is underneath the red camera symbol. Get your photo lined up (more on that later) and press the zoom button to zoom in/out as desired. The photo you are taking is shown on the LCD screen on the back. Press the large red button on the top to take your photo once you are ready. Take multiple photos! It would be hard to fill a 2GB SD card in a class period, so take lots of photos to be able to choose the best to print.
Take all your photos at once, then plan to print them at the end of the class period or when you're inside and don't have as much glare on the screen. When you are satisfied that you have a shot or two that will work well to print, push the print button (this works in both camera and playback modes). It will allow you scroll through the photos - select which photo to print by pushing the print button again, and choose how many copies to print (the default is 1). It'll ask if you want to print this one, select OK and it will start the process.
The printed picture will come out of the side - do not pull on it as it's printing! I've found that if the printing takes a long time or the colors are very faded, it's likely the battery is low.
To add more ink sheets, slip off the 3D printed band and push the open button up. The sheets come in packages of 10 with a blue card that tells the camera some calibration aspects of that batch of sheets - it says it is necessary, but it's actually not (though you will get better quality photos if you use it). Additionally, I've found that some cameras need to have that sheet primed a little bit to feed through, so push it a little bit into slot on the side nearest the buttons and the camera will do all of the work from there.
When you insert the film package, ensure that the shiny side of the film is facing you. The back is printed with the word "ZINK" all over it. Also, don't put more than 10 sheets into the camera at one time.
By far the biggest challenge I had with the initial facilitation of this was the ease with which you can accidentally open the back of the Z2300 camera. It wasn't just kids that did this, adults had this issue as well. It's a design flaw that the switch is so easy to push. A thick rubber band or piece of tape will work well. I designed and printed a strap that covers the switch as well as keeps the whole thing closed - the .stl file is available above as well as on Thingiverse. Simply print it out in a flexible filament and slip it on - it does need to be removed to refill the camera, and it's easiest to get on/off it you do so from the side opposite the buttons and wrist strap.
Step 4: Explain, Expand and Evaluate
Here are some questions to ask during and after faciliation:
Explain and Expand:
- How do we use forced perspective when drawing or painting something on a 2-dimensional surface to give it the appearance of something depth?
- Why do our brains perceive this size difference the way that they do?
- What other props might you use to create a scene or story using forced perspective photography? Try it at home!
- How would this technique be useful in the film and photography industry?
- Can you think of any famous photos or paintings that use forced perspective in their composition?