A Sense Of Scale

A photograph is two-dimensional

A photograph is two-dimensional. Subjects that open their doors to our lenses are three-dimensional. To convey the third dimension and depth in a photo, you need to portray dimensionality. One way to achieve this is to include compositional elements that provide a sense of scale in the picture. Use objects of known size so the viewer can make a connection between them and the surrounding environment. It gives the viewer a point of reference from which he or she can understand how big or small everything else is in the photo.

The Key Element: While blue sky, wide-open landscapes prompt oohs and aahs from those who witness a scene in person, they rarely provide the landscape photographer a striking image. The reason is they lack depth and scale. The quintessential example is the Grand Canyon shot from many of the overlooks. To overcome this shortcoming, find a natural item in the environment to include in the foreground and viola, the photo now has depth. Place it so it frames the background and doesn’t merge with the key elements. Its inclusion allows the viewer to compare the rock, tree, fallen log, etc. to the rest of the picture. As a result, the image tells more of the story and has more impact.

The Contrast: Find a single element that produces a WOW from the viewer that provides a sense of scale so he or she is left saying, “That is amazing.” For instance, highlight the baby elephant in and amongst the herd of adults to show just how much smaller the babies are at birth. Find the flower that’s just breaking ground compared to the mature ones around it. As described above, find a lone tree in an expansive landscape and feature it in the foreground.

Outdoor Photographer Tip Of The Week

The first photo that accompanies this week’s tip shows size relationship. The kayaker provides a reference relative to the size of his vessel. He is dwarfed by the immensity of Mount Moran and the foreground aspens. One aspect that helps the kayaker stand out is the color of the boat. Had it been blue, it wouldn’t stand out against the same color water. In the second image, it’s evident the falls is a gentle cascade based on the inclusion of leaves on the moss-covered rocks. They provide a point of reference with regards to size. Without them, one could be left wondering just how large the falls and rocks are. In the dune image, a conclusion can be drawn as to just how high the sand is based on the inclusion of the tree. Without it, the viewer is left wondering just how tall the dune rises. One point to note with regards to composition, I juxtaposed the tree against the lit part of the dune rather than the shadow side. If the image was made with the tree against the dark area, it would merge in tone and not be visible.

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