Atmospheric/Aerial Perspective

Aerial perspective or atmospheric perspective refers to the effect the atmosphere has on the appearance of an object as it is viewed from a distance. As the distance between an object and a viewer increases, the contrast between the object and its background decreases, and the contrast of any markings or details within the object also decreases. The colours of the object also become less saturated and shift towards the background color, which is usually blue, but under some conditions may be some other color.

Early examples of atmospheric perspective in art:
Dai Jin, "Landscape in the Style of Yan Wengui"
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Chinese landscape painting.
Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa 1503-05 Oil on wood panel.

Although the use of aerial perspective has been known since antiquity, Leonardo da Vinci first used the term aerial perspective in his Treatise on Painting, in which he wrote: “Colours become weaker in proportion to their distance from the person who is looking at them.” 

Other examples of atmospheric perspective:

Methods for duplicating atmospheric perspective in your painting:

  • Place dark values in foreground; light values in background.
  • Use warm temperature color mixes in foreground; cool temperature color mixes in background.  Warm colors come forward; cool colors recede.
  • Reduce color intensity (brightness or dullness) in background by mixing with compliments.  Complimentary colors neutralize intensity when mixed.

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