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I'm trying to learn the basics of perspective, and I'm trying to understand what the picture plane is. To me, it seems like cropping, but I'm not exactly sure. Also, is it important in learning perspective or learning composition?
Let's say you're standing in a museum looking at a painting. Think of the frame as a window frame, like you're looking through the window and seeing a scene 'outside'. The 'glass' in the 'window' is the picture plane. So for example if the painting shows a person facing directly toward you standing at military attention then his entire body is parallel to the picture plane, but if he's turned at an angle and has one arm pointing back into the distance then he's not parallel to the picture plane.
So, it's essentially the same as framing?
Not really. Framing takes place on the picture plane, and determines the outer edges of the image, but it's not identical. You can change the framing while keeping the same picture plane for instance, by expanding or otherwise moving the outer perimeter. Or you could keep the same aspect ratio while rotating the picture plane.
Generally when people talk about the picture plane it's in relation to other planes or objects in the image - the most common way to use it is to say "everything is parallel to the picture plane", or "the wall behind your character is completely parallel to the picture plane". So people usually refer to it in order to talk about deep space in an image, or the lack thereof. Framing is closely aligned with picture plane, but they're not the same thing.
I just ran across a perfect illustration for this:
The first image on this thread is a perfect example. The entire figure is parallel to the picture plane, as if it's an action figure laying against a wall that's totally perpendicular to the viewers' eyeline. You could change the framing by maybe expanding the canvas to show all the way out past his hands and feet, but the picture plane remains the same, and the figure is still totally parallel to it (like a paper doll).
Okay, I think I got it. Thanks.