Aerial perspective

How aerial perspective affects chiaroscuro

Are your landscapes flat? Do you want to give them more depth? Learn what the aerial perspective is and how it can help you to paint better landscapes.
There are two types of perspective:

  1. Linear perspective.
  2. Aerial perspective.

On this blog I already talked about linear perspective. I explained what it is and I introduced the single point and two point perspective. But in order to give more depth to your landscapes you need to understand what aerial perspective is and how it can help you to paint better landscapes.

Here the definition of aerial perspective according to Wikipedia:

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 colors 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 (for example, at sunrise or sunset distant colors may shift towards red).

From the Italian Wikipedia it is possible to read the following text that I translated for you:

According to the Leonardo’s studies, the air is denser close to the ground and it becomes more transparent with height. So, all tall landscapes elements, such as mountains, appear sharper in the higher parts.

In fact, in his Treatise on Painting Leonardo suggests to paint the mountains clear upon the hills than at the base. Who has had the opportunity to see Bob Ross videos, probably noticed that in his landscapes he always creates a more hazy towards the base of the mountains. Basically, he is merely applying the principle explained by Leonardo more centuries in advance.

Meanwhile, I list the things to remember when you apply the aerial perspective.

Tone shift toward background tone

On lots of websites you will find that tone increase (means become more clear) with distance. In most cases this is true because object tones in foreground are darker than background color (the sky) in a landscape. In general, this is not true because if you have a white object in the foreground its tone get darker with distance because background color (the sky) is darker than pure white. The rule is that tone shift to background color. The following figure shows this concept.

How aerial perspective affects chiaroscuro

Saturation reduction

Color saturation reduces with distance. Usually objects colors are brilliant in the foreground and less intense in the background.

Aerial Perspective

Hue shift toward background color

Color hue shift toward background (or ambient) color. In a landscape the background (or ambient) color is the sky color, so the object colors shift toward sky color (usually blue) with distance. The following figure shows the effects with two similar ships at different distances. As you can notice also hue contrast is reduced.

Aerial perspective

Photo from

Tone Contrast

Nearby objects have more contrasts in tone than distant objects. If you compare the light/dark contrast of the following three spheres you will notice that it is higher on the foreground sphere and lower in the distant one.
How aerial perspective affects tones


To give a greater sense of depth try to change the sharpness of your painted objects at different levels of depth. Generally, near objects are clearer than distant one.

Aerial Perspective


The attention to detail is different in the various painting planes. In the foreground objects are rich in details. These details gradually disappear with distance.
Prospettiva Aerea

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