A 90 Year Old Example of Forced Perspective Photography

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A few months back we published a collection of Forced Perspective images which was very popular with readers.

Forced perspective is defined as ‘a technique that employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther, closer, larger or smaller than it actually is.’ (Wikipedia)

This is far from a recently popular thing for photographers to do. Here’s a great example from 1918 which was submitted by one of our readers – Graham Parkhurst – that illustrates it from 90+ years ago.

forced-perspective.jpg

The picture is of 18,000 men preparing for war in a training camp at Camp Dodge, in Iowa.

A few facts about the image:

  • Length from base to Shoulder: 150 feet
  • Right Arm: 340 feet
  • Length of Torch and flame: 1000 feet
  • Total Length: 1490 Feet
  • Number of men in body and head of figure: 2,000
  • Number of men in right arm: 1,200
  • Number of men in torch: 2,800
  • Number of men in the flame only: 12,000
  • Total men: 18,000

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Tom

    Sooooooo Cool:) that was a lot of math, to calculate how many people should be in the flame:)

  • Lol at the mohawk hair.

  • Yet another application of projective geometry: calculating the number of supernumeraries required.
    Or, how to do chalk paintings when you have no chalk but do have a lot of guys hanging about.
    Awesome.

  • NickM

    Some AMAZING examples of forced perspective are at this website: http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/pave.htm It’s all chalk art, but does tie into photography, since they’re pictures of the art. The first two in the 3D Illusion section show the proper perspective, and a perspective from the opposite side to illustrate how he gets the art to look right.

  • And here’s me thinking the speed limits painted on roads using this technique were cool ;O)

  • I would not want to be the photographer in charge of that project. Large groups can be totally annoying to work with in the first place. If I had to deal with 18,000 of them I’m afraid only 17,980 would come out alive. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Really cool! Must be one of the best photos taken at that time I reckon lol

  • This is awesome.

  • Has anyone got any thoughts on how this was achieved?
    Nowadays I would imagine the photographer (actually there may be a director) with a laptop showing the overall view from a video camera so everybody may be positioned, seeing the immediate effects.
    90 years ago I’m assuming they havn’t got a laptop or video camera. They do have teamwork though. OK, I guess the shape was marked out first, but this would have been incredible. I’d like to imagine a team of 200 people, starting with the photographer passing messages such as “flame-man – stop right there!”.

  • A testament to strong bladder control.

  • i think the image is made in photoshop!

  • Ben

    sooooooooooo cooool

  • Here’s a blog post with a “forced perspective” shot that I took at Schloss Nymphenburg here in Munich recently: http://www.shutteria.com/2009/07/reflections-and-forced-perspectives.html

  • How many time can take to make this pic?? inceible!

  • OMG!
    Fantastic!

  • Whoever is responsible for making this photograph is a genius. I can’t even imagine the logistics of it, never mind getting the technical aspect of making the photograph itself. Respect.

  • Lynwood F. Mundy

    What an awesome picture to group and compose 18,000 men before they go to fight for what they posed for: Liberty for America as a democracy to live free.

    No one will probably think how many of those soldiers gave their blood for Liberty.

  • Can you imagine trying to get someone (say an Art Director) to do this today?

    You’d be laughed out of the room! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • drandy

    Wonder what it would have looked like if they had restaged this after the war with all the survivors placed into their original positions? Think it would have made a strong statement about war and loss.

  • Such a great picture. Crazy that the flame took so many men to create. But wow what a concept with all the men and the size being very in proportion to the image itself. that’s a lot of work to get that done and the detail.
    Thanks for sharing this “perspective” ๐Ÿ™‚
    Darkman

  • Sarah Ashley

    Whalebone et al: We did this when I was in grade school a couple of different times. I think one was for Red Ribbon Week (anti-drugs week), and another was to commemorate the last year a long-time principal who was retiring. In our case each child held a piece of paper with a certain color for the design and we were put into formation within a chalk outline for the pattern. It really doesn’t seem that difficult and since they pulled it off with 5-11 year olds, so it really wouldn’t be hard to do with military members. However the image is amazing and I love it.

  • Espen
  • I have a feeling that this is fake. 18,000 people?

  • i just did a senior clas with about 800 kids to make ’10 for the class of 2010, i took about an hour to even get them close to the right spot!! i can’t imagine 18,000!! awesome find! thanks for sharing!!!! john

  • Natalia

    Wow! That’s truly impressive, to think that this was done at the dawn of photography! Just amazing

  • DaedaLusT

    Wow! The scale of this is simply epic =O

  • Lynn

    Nope, this is not a fake. It was one of a series of “Living Portraits” taken in 1918 by Arthur Mole and John D. Thomas who would spend a week or more on preparations for each photograph. The photograph of the “Living Statue of Liberty” was actually intended to promote war bonds but was never used.They began by tracing the desired image on a ground-glass plate mounted on Moleโ€™s camera. Using a megaphone, body language, and a long pole with a white flag tied to the end to point to the more remote areas where the bulk of the troops had to be stationed, Mole would then position his helpers on the field as they nailed the pattern to the ground with miles of lace edging. In this way, Mole also figured out the exact number of troops required. These steps were preliminary to the many hours required to assemble and position the troops on the day of shooting. Some of their other portraits included “Living Portrait of Woodrow Wilson”, “Human Liberty Bell” and “Human US Shield”. Very impressive!

  • drandy has a thought that would have made much impact – an after the war shot of survivors.

    This is a remarkable feat, a remarkable photo, so much creativity in this. Thanks to Lynn for describing how it was done. But white flags on a long pole? Wow! Lots of maneuvering.

  • Steve Laitman

    Wrong photography- breath! It was 1800 not 18,000! I count 18 men in first row and approximately 100 rows.
    That being said, this is a fabulous photograph proving once again that some of those old time film photographers were more skilled than a lot of us digital phtographers.

  • @Drady.

    I agree with the sentiment you’ve made about reshooting it after the war, but you’ll notice that this shot was made in 1918, which means, in essence, most likely these soldiers wouldn’t have been fighting as they are still Stateside at the wars conclusion.

  • foodforthought

    Being a disabled vet, I do not think that I would be happy standing out there for hours feeding the ego of some base commander. I do not know what the picture has to do with training to fight.

Some Older Comments

  • Alex - Suffolk Wedding Photographers November 11, 2009 07:18 pm

    @Drady.

    I agree with the sentiment you've made about reshooting it after the war, but you'll notice that this shot was made in 1918, which means, in essence, most likely these soldiers wouldn't have been fighting as they are still Stateside at the wars conclusion.

  • Sime November 8, 2009 04:25 am

    Steve - Check this out...

    http://filipspagnoli.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/human-statue-of-liberty.jpg

  • Steve Laitman November 8, 2009 01:22 am

    Wrong photography- breath! It was 1800 not 18,000! I count 18 men in first row and approximately 100 rows.
    That being said, this is a fabulous photograph proving once again that some of those old time film photographers were more skilled than a lot of us digital phtographers.

  • Bo Mackison November 6, 2009 11:18 pm

    drandy has a thought that would have made much impact - an after the war shot of survivors.

    This is a remarkable feat, a remarkable photo, so much creativity in this. Thanks to Lynn for describing how it was done. But white flags on a long pole? Wow! Lots of maneuvering.

  • Lynn November 6, 2009 07:29 pm

    Nope, this is not a fake. It was one of a series of "Living Portraits" taken in 1918 by Arthur Mole and John D. Thomas who would spend a week or more on preparations for each photograph. The photograph of the "Living Statue of Liberty" was actually intended to promote war bonds but was never used.They began by tracing the desired image on a ground-glass plate mounted on Moleโ€™s camera. Using a megaphone, body language, and a long pole with a white flag tied to the end to point to the more remote areas where the bulk of the troops had to be stationed, Mole would then position his helpers on the field as they nailed the pattern to the ground with miles of lace edging. In this way, Mole also figured out the exact number of troops required. These steps were preliminary to the many hours required to assemble and position the troops on the day of shooting. Some of their other portraits included "Living Portrait of Woodrow Wilson", "Human Liberty Bell" and "Human US Shield". Very impressive!

  • DaedaLusT November 6, 2009 05:46 pm

    Wow! The scale of this is simply epic =O

  • Natalia November 6, 2009 02:02 pm

    Wow! That's truly impressive, to think that this was done at the dawn of photography! Just amazing

  • airbrushjohn November 6, 2009 07:40 am

    i just did a senior clas with about 800 kids to make '10 for the class of 2010, i took about an hour to even get them close to the right spot!! i can't imagine 18,000!! awesome find! thanks for sharing!!!! john

  • Sean November 6, 2009 05:45 am

    I have a feeling that this is fake. 18,000 people?

  • Espen November 6, 2009 04:55 am

    More soldiers in perspective: http://www.iowanationalguard.com/museum/cdstory/cdstory/libertystatuepage.htm

  • Sarah Ashley November 6, 2009 03:59 am

    Whalebone et al: We did this when I was in grade school a couple of different times. I think one was for Red Ribbon Week (anti-drugs week), and another was to commemorate the last year a long-time principal who was retiring. In our case each child held a piece of paper with a certain color for the design and we were put into formation within a chalk outline for the pattern. It really doesn't seem that difficult and since they pulled it off with 5-11 year olds, so it really wouldn't be hard to do with military members. However the image is amazing and I love it.

  • Larry "Darkman" Clark November 6, 2009 03:04 am

    Such a great picture. Crazy that the flame took so many men to create. But wow what a concept with all the men and the size being very in proportion to the image itself. that's a lot of work to get that done and the detail.
    Thanks for sharing this "perspective" :)
    Darkman

  • drandy November 6, 2009 02:56 am

    Wonder what it would have looked like if they had restaged this after the war with all the survivors placed into their original positions? Think it would have made a strong statement about war and loss.

  • Alex Kilbee November 4, 2009 08:53 pm

    Can you imagine trying to get someone (say an Art Director) to do this today?

    You'd be laughed out of the room! :D

  • Lynwood F. Mundy November 4, 2009 07:15 am

    What an awesome picture to group and compose 18,000 men before they go to fight for what they posed for: Liberty for America as a democracy to live free.

    No one will probably think how many of those soldiers gave their blood for Liberty.

  • Jason Collin Photography November 3, 2009 04:00 pm

    Whoever is responsible for making this photograph is a genius. I can't even imagine the logistics of it, never mind getting the technical aspect of making the photograph itself. Respect.

  • Gabeszphoto November 3, 2009 05:48 am

    OMG!
    Fantastic!

  • Michael J. November 3, 2009 01:40 am

    How many time can take to make this pic?? inceible!

  • Joel November 3, 2009 01:25 am

    Here's a blog post with a "forced perspective" shot that I took at Schloss Nymphenburg here in Munich recently: http://www.shutteria.com/2009/07/reflections-and-forced-perspectives.html

  • Ben November 2, 2009 10:33 pm

    sooooooooooo cooool

  • Giovanni November 2, 2009 02:35 pm

    i think the image is made in photoshop!

  • Jeff Stannard November 2, 2009 06:39 am

    A testament to strong bladder control.

  • Whalebone November 1, 2009 09:16 pm

    Has anyone got any thoughts on how this was achieved?
    Nowadays I would imagine the photographer (actually there may be a director) with a laptop showing the overall view from a video camera so everybody may be positioned, seeing the immediate effects.
    90 years ago I'm assuming they havn't got a laptop or video camera. They do have teamwork though. OK, I guess the shape was marked out first, but this would have been incredible. I'd like to imagine a team of 200 people, starting with the photographer passing messages such as "flame-man - stop right there!".

  • Amandalynn Jones November 1, 2009 03:40 pm

    This is awesome.

  • Radityo Pradipto November 1, 2009 01:07 pm

    Really cool! Must be one of the best photos taken at that time I reckon lol

  • XposurePro Photography Community November 1, 2009 12:05 pm

    I would not want to be the photographer in charge of that project. Large groups can be totally annoying to work with in the first place. If I had to deal with 18,000 of them I'm afraid only 17,980 would come out alive. :)

  • Will November 1, 2009 09:21 am

    And here's me thinking the speed limits painted on roads using this technique were cool ;O)

  • NickM November 1, 2009 07:55 am

    Some AMAZING examples of forced perspective are at this website: http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/pave.htm It's all chalk art, but does tie into photography, since they're pictures of the art. The first two in the 3D Illusion section show the proper perspective, and a perspective from the opposite side to illustrate how he gets the art to look right.

  • Barry Cunningham November 1, 2009 07:51 am

    Yet another application of projective geometry: calculating the number of supernumeraries required.
    Or, how to do chalk paintings when you have no chalk but do have a lot of guys hanging about.
    Awesome.

  • Danferno November 1, 2009 06:56 am

    Lol at the mohawk hair.

  • Tom November 1, 2009 06:13 am

    Sooooooo Cool:) that was a lot of math, to calculate how many people should be in the flame:)

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