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Adding Scale to Your Landscapes

We often think of landscapes as sweeping vistas fading away into the distance, taking our eyes on a journey through flower strewn fields, cascading mountain peaks, skyscraper speckled skylines and rolling waters. When you’re standing behind the camera capturing that magical view it’s easy to see and understand the immense scope of what you’re viewing. However, that sense of size doesn’t always translate to the photo you’re viewing later on your computer screen.

That’s because our eyes scale down those big peaks we’re looking at in your image without any frame of reference – we weren’t there with you after all – of the scope of what we’re looking at. One way to help create scale is by adding in people or other very recognizable sized subjects to your landscape images.

Below – these rafters help give scale to the river scenery and depth through layering.

Distant Scale

One of the better ways to show scale in your landscape is by adding in a person (or persons) in the mid to far distance. Their comparatively small size in a larger frame shows the expansiveness of the surrounding scenery. We visually know roughly how large a person should be and judge from there the scope of everything around them.

Above – this kite surfer helps size up the beach scene and cars add a secondary frame of reference.

Foreground Scale

It can be difficult to add scale to a landscape with a distant person when the nearest point they could be in the distance is inaccessible or just too far away to make out. The next best thing is to add context to that image with a person in the foreground. Look to frame the landscape around that person; making them stare into the distance helps involve them in the landscape without arresting away all the focus onto them. Use a part of their body, half body perspective or the whole thing walking along in the foreground – it’s all up to you as long as it’s adding context.

Below – this Chinese man scoping into the distance adds scale and interest.

Objects as Scale

Common objects like cars can sometimes serve as objects of scale. This can be tricky though. It has to be an object you and your audience knows intuitively well. Do you really know how big that truck or building is in the distance? Your eyes can judge it, but it’s not as familiar as a person, making it harder for you brain to create an accurate scale. When people simply aren’t available however try adding scale with familiar objects.

Above – this boat adds a reference point, but do I really know how large it is?

 

No matter how you frame it, adding people to your landscape imagery can help create a scale and depth you might find yourself missing. Grab a friend on your next explorations and give it a shot.

 

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Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

  • Scottc

    A “known quantity” can be a huge perspective changer in many different scapes, thanks for the article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4725263830/

  • http://blog.stephenemlund.com Stephen Emlund

    I’ve never really thought about adding scale in my photography to really communicate the size of things. I’m definitely going to think about this next time I’m out shooting landscapes.

    I also wonder, for some landscapes, if not having something for scale adds to the wonder and awe of the scene – especially if it’s an epic sunset, or anything else that can stand on it’s own and be better if the viewer was visually taken to the scene through the awe/wonder/mystery that can only be communicated when no man-made object or person are present.

  • James

    Great suggestion. So simple and obvious in the “Why didn’t I think of that?” sense, yet so effective. Thank you.

  • http://www.1107photography.wordpress.com Deb Scally

    Thank you–great points. It’s a terrible feeling to know you have captured a monumental landscape, only to review it later onscreen and feel like it falls flat.

    And, @Stephen, you make a valid point depending on your purpose and composition, but the author is trying to show us how to convey the actual sense of scale they felt at the scene, which is often lost once it is cropped in our camera’s sensor. In the case he is making, using a scale trigger actually helps create that sense of wonder, rather than lose it. Yes, you are right, though…the opposite is certainly true about conveying a sense of mystery, so it’s a tip that works both ways!

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    I love landscape photography and I may do this intuitively but I will now be looking out to add an object to give an idea of the depth!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • satesh r

    Great article. Will definitely remember this one.

    http://flic.kr/p/dLfiGJ

  • ccting

    What i would say about this article is: Excellent. I love this article because it is written in the way that focuses on a single factor. What are the other factors that contributes to excellent landscapes, and i am waiting for your articles. Please focus on a single factor for each article so we could easily learn them.

    Ty. ;D

  • John K

    you lost me when you started talking about putting people in your landscape shots

  • http://www.guigphotography.com/# Guigphotography

    This is definitely one I want to practise more and think I benefit from slowing down to consider factors like those mentioned above. I tried to use aspects of the scene attached to convey the scale/depth of the scene and find I keep returning to it to re-think!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8171653335/in/photostream

  • http://www.fuzzypig.com George Johnson

    Good to read this as it’s one of the obvious things that I always point out to people. To people with point and shoot cameras just grabbing snapshots, get something in the foreground that gives you and your mates some idea how flipping huge that mountain or lake is.

    It’s one of the things that I am obsessive about when I shoot my landscapes, that there is something there that communicates the scale. I believe it was British landscaper Ross Hoddinott who said, “No foreground? No landscape!”.

  • http://ronkness.com Ron

    Not really brought out in the article, using scale also conveys how far something in the background is away from the camera. In our mind, the farther something is away, the smaller it appears, but without an object in the foreground to use as a reference point, it is hard to determine just how far away something is based on its size alone.

    Ron
    Learn Digital Photography by Ron

  • http://www.flickr.com/leonardogamba Leonardo Gamba

    this is very true, in the sea is very difficult capture the big waves because in the picture can be see as small waves, but if you include a small boat the aspect is other.

Some older comments

  • Leonardo Gamba

    February 3, 2013 04:52 pm

    this is very true, in the sea is very difficult capture the big waves because in the picture can be see as small waves, but if you include a small boat the aspect is other.

  • Ron

    January 20, 2013 12:58 am

    Not really brought out in the article, using scale also conveys how far something in the background is away from the camera. In our mind, the farther something is away, the smaller it appears, but without an object in the foreground to use as a reference point, it is hard to determine just how far away something is based on its size alone.

    Ron
    Learn Digital Photography by Ron

  • George Johnson

    January 18, 2013 02:51 am

    Good to read this as it's one of the obvious things that I always point out to people. To people with point and shoot cameras just grabbing snapshots, get something in the foreground that gives you and your mates some idea how flipping huge that mountain or lake is.

    It's one of the things that I am obsessive about when I shoot my landscapes, that there is something there that communicates the scale. I believe it was British landscaper Ross Hoddinott who said, "No foreground? No landscape!".

  • Guigphotography

    January 15, 2013 10:33 pm

    This is definitely one I want to practise more and think I benefit from slowing down to consider factors like those mentioned above. I tried to use aspects of the scene attached to convey the scale/depth of the scene and find I keep returning to it to re-think!
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8171653335/in/photostream

  • John K

    January 15, 2013 11:10 am

    you lost me when you started talking about putting people in your landscape shots

  • ccting

    January 14, 2013 12:06 pm

    What i would say about this article is: Excellent. I love this article because it is written in the way that focuses on a single factor. What are the other factors that contributes to excellent landscapes, and i am waiting for your articles. Please focus on a single factor for each article so we could easily learn them.

    Ty. ;D

  • satesh r

    January 14, 2013 04:21 am

    Great article. Will definitely remember this one.

    http://flic.kr/p/dLfiGJ

  • Mridula

    January 14, 2013 02:42 am

    I love landscape photography and I may do this intuitively but I will now be looking out to add an object to give an idea of the depth!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Deb Scally

    January 14, 2013 02:22 am

    Thank you--great points. It's a terrible feeling to know you have captured a monumental landscape, only to review it later onscreen and feel like it falls flat.

    And, @Stephen, you make a valid point depending on your purpose and composition, but the author is trying to show us how to convey the actual sense of scale they felt at the scene, which is often lost once it is cropped in our camera's sensor. In the case he is making, using a scale trigger actually helps create that sense of wonder, rather than lose it. Yes, you are right, though...the opposite is certainly true about conveying a sense of mystery, so it's a tip that works both ways!

  • James

    January 13, 2013 08:26 pm

    Great suggestion. So simple and obvious in the "Why didn't I think of that?" sense, yet so effective. Thank you.

  • Stephen Emlund

    January 13, 2013 04:29 pm

    I've never really thought about adding scale in my photography to really communicate the size of things. I'm definitely going to think about this next time I'm out shooting landscapes.

    I also wonder, for some landscapes, if not having something for scale adds to the wonder and awe of the scene - especially if it's an epic sunset, or anything else that can stand on it's own and be better if the viewer was visually taken to the scene through the awe/wonder/mystery that can only be communicated when no man-made object or person are present.

  • Scottc

    January 13, 2013 10:50 am

    A "known quantity" can be a huge perspective changer in many different scapes, thanks for the article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4725263830/

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