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Giving a Sense of Scale

Every once in a while, I will be showing someone a photo and I will get a question about size or scale. For example, "how big was that mesa?" Other times, it is too hard to convey the size and scale of the elements in an image. Think about photos taken of the redwoods and sequoias in California. Without something in the frame to give that perspective, it is hard for the viewer to get that sense of size.

Fortunately, there are things we can have in a photo that can be an easy reference to the viewer. These things could be, people, animals or inanimate objects. Really any common item that would be familiar to the viewer. Consider the following image:

There are really no clues in the image as to how big the two formations are. Compare this to the next image:

Here we have the addition of a person that had climbed up on the larger structure. Now the viewer has an idea of both distance and scale. In my case, this was unplanned, as this unknown person just happened to climb up the formation. This could have easily been staged, all you need is a friend that does not have a fear of heights.

Here is another example, using wildlife:

When using wildlife, not only do we get a sense of scale, but also helps with the nature story. We need to be careful when using wildlife to be sure that the placement of the animal makes sense, and is easily identifiable. At the same time, we don't want the animal to become the main subject.

Of course, the challenge with wildlife is that they don't take direction well. Patience is definitely required. In the above image the ram is closer to the front of the plateau. This works nicely because he stands out well against the snow. Ideally, I would like to get more background, but then he would need to move further back in the frame. Another issue is that one of his legs is hidden. Fortunately, by changing position, and waiting for a bit, he did walk further back.

I like the fact that I can now get some of the area behind the formations, but now the ram is starting to blend into the background too much. Also, he went from showing three legs to only showing two legs. A little more waiting and now he moved into a better spot.

Now all of the elements come together. With we have detail in the background, good placement of the ram, and the ram is showing all 4 legs. There is even a little bit of separation between the horns and the dirt showing just over the head of the ram.

If you would like to learn more, join me at one of my classes or workshops. More information can be found on my Workshops page.

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