Painting Landscapes: Using Aerial Perspective

Love painting landscapes but can't seem to get it to work? Does it looks flat and uninteresting? The answer might lie in applying aerial perspective.


There are two different types of perspective to deal with when painting landscapes: linear perspective and aerial perspective (aka atmospheric perspective).

Linear perspective creates an illusion of distance through edges and lines.

This concept is easier to understand. For example, the trees near your eyes seem bigger and taller than the trees in the far distance.

Aerial (or atmospheric) perspective, emphasizes the sense of distance through changes in color intensity and value shift.

The water vapor obscures the mountains in the distance and casts an opaque veil over them.

aerial perspective landscape painting

What is aerial perspective?

When objects recede, they appear to shrink in size, but they also tend to lose detail. Contrasts are lost; the colors are less intense; the edges are less distinct.

The atmosphere contains water vapor. This veil of water vapor adds an opaque or semi-transparent haze between your eyes and distant objects. As a result, the more distant the object, the more fuzzy and pastel-like they appear. This is why distant objects appear lighter, bluer and less distinct. The view looks like it is scumbled over with white paint.

The sky appears whiter and paler closer to the horizon. As the sky line rises, the sky is bluer and darker in value.

aerial perspective landscape painting

At the horizon, the atmosphere is whiter and more opaque. Thus the mountain in the far distance is whitish blue or green. The air above the horizon is thinner (less water vapor blocking the view). That means the sky above is clearer and darker blue.

This painting by Thomas Cole from 19th century illustrates the principles of aerial perspective clearly.

Thomas Cole landscape painting

How do you achieve this aerial perspective effect?

When you paint a landscape painting, you can use the scumbling technique to create an atmospheric perspective effect.

Apply a thin coat of white paint semi-transparently over a coat of already dried paint.

Or simply mix dulled and paler versions of colors by adding white and the complementary color to cut down on the color intensity.

You will need to adjust the amount of white you use to avoid making it too chalky.

Aerial perspective is a great tool, but do not use it blindly.

Always base your work on your observation of nature. There are some cases where you just do not see that whitish and faded layer in the far distance. It is usually helpful to keep the rules of atmospheric perspective in mind.

Want to further your landscape painting skills? Learn more from the easy to follow lesson here.

> > Painting Perspective In Landscapes



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