How to Use the Human Form to Give a Sense of Scale to Your Images [With Examples] - Digital Photography School
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How to Use the Human Form to Give a Sense of Scale to Your Images [With Examples]

At times when you’re photographing scenes like landscapes or architectural structures it is difficult to convey to those viewing your images the scale of what you’re photographing – particularly when the main element in your shot is big.

One technique to bring scale to your image is to include something within it that gives the viewer a point of reference. Something that they are familiar with the size of that shows them what the true proportions of the image are.

You can do this with many elements but one of the best is to include a person in your image. We’re all very in tune with how big the average human being is – so including a person in the shot will immediately give a good point of reference.

Some illustrations:

Friends

The two people sitting on top of this cliff give perspective of their height.

A Radiant Future

Even just the top half of these two people gives scale to this Belgium Railway station’s structure.

Black Angels from a White Future

While the steps themselves probably give a sense of scale to this architecture the two people walking down them add to it.

A LAND OF GIANTS in Giant Fog

This child looking at these giant trees gives them scale

Raising the Roof at Ely Cathedral!

While a perhaps a distraction on some levels – the people in this Cathedral shot do at least give some sense of the scale of the church.

Lone in Dune - Sand Dunes, Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park

The small lone figure on the sand dunes gives the impression of a vast dessert.

At the Feet of an Ancient Master

The meditating woman not only adds a little meaning to the shot – it also shows the scale of this tree’s girth and root system.

2005-02-01 Between and betwixt geometries, Antigua

The people show the massive size of these ships – even though the full ship is not included in the image.

Of course including the human form cleverly in an image can also be used to trick the mind of those viewing the shot…

Midiendo fuerzas...

But that’s another story.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://www.pixel-tips.com Erin @ Pixel Tips

    These are some really beautiful images. I especially love the little boy with the foggy, giant trees.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula
  • http://stphoto.wordpress.com/ Scott Thomas Photography

    Best way to show scale as everyone has an idea of big people are. Excellent post, Darren.

  • Luke

    One of the best posts I’ve read in a while.

  • raghavendra

    This is good, every time i see the portraits and landscape.
    I have done a similar image

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2011/08/being-lonely.html

  • http://karenruntz.wordpress.com Karen Runtz

    Stunning examples. Hadn’t appreciated how much the human figure establishes scale across such a range of situations.

    I’m not a professional photographer and just use a point and shoot, but love viewing images and learning. In that vein, I’m sharing an image I took on vacation a few years back. It wasn’t posed, just reflects what I noticed when my then husband was walking across a beach, and it relates to your post. Would cropping improve it?

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/karenruntz/6886612115/' title='On the beach' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7068/6886612115_8edd913f25_z.jpg']

  • juan

    Very informative. Many thanks. Did you shoot these images yourself Darren?

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    This is a hot of Marilyn Munroe in Chicago – exact opposite to what this article describes as this is a 40 foot statue!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/marilyn-monroe-in-chicago/

  • Rick (San Francisco)

    Hey Darren

    Luv this post about using people as a scale of reference for some of our images.

    Just wish to point out a little bitty typo:

    <<>>

    I am sure you meant to say “desert” – altho’ the sand dunes do look like tapioca pudding dessert…!

    I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, on the Sonoran desert…and the word was mis-spelled so much there…perhaps it was the desert heat!

    Also – is there a way we can find out what wide-angle lens/lenses were used to capture these images?

    Thanks Darren…and keep up the great work here with your teaching blog.

  • Rick (San Francisco)

    Sorry – left out the sentence in question:

    Hey Darren

    Luv this post about using people as a scale of reference for some of our images

    Just wish to point out a little bitty typo in the following sentence – the caption under your sand dunes image:

    “The small lone figure on the sand dunes gives the impression of a vast dessert”

    I am sure you meant to say “desert” – altho’ the sand dunes do look like tapioca pudding dessert…

    I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, on the desert…and the word was mis-spelled so much there…perhaps it was the desert heat!

    Also – is there a way we can find out what wide-angle lens/lenses were used to capture these images?

    Thanks Darren…and keep up the great work here with your teaching blog.

  • http://www.dfindlay.zenfolio.com David

    Very good advice.

    [eimg url='http://dfindlay.zenfolio.com/p303000647/h19e965fa#h19e965fa' title='h19e965fa#h19e965fa']

  • ColininOz

    Applies also to huge bits of machinery. Like the container handling cranes at this Shaghai terminal.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/67900028@N08/6888563349/' title='Smoko Chinese style' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7189/6888563349_8d5d604011.jpg']

  • Bryce Wilson

    One of your best Darren, thanks for great tips.

  • Mei Teng

    Beautiful set of images. The use of human form does indeed add an element of interest to the images.

  • Bayu Kristianto

    nice pics.
    you give me more knowledge and perspective about photography.

  • Scottc

    A great lesson with perfect examples!

    Here’s a “steep” one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4724617165/

  • http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com Jeff E Jensen

    Yup, a great way to add a sens of scale

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/09/climbing-baldy.html

  • http://thelittlepicturebox.blogspot.com/ Adam Woods

    Ha – that ‘church’ is actually Ely Cathedral, in the city of Ely, here in the UK, Cambridgeshire! I live very close, and go on shoots in the city all the time! Check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Little-Picture-Box/364025543614051?sk=photos and blog http://thelittlepicturebox.blogspot.com/ for more pics!

  • http://366andallthat.wordpress.com/ MikeC366

    I have noting as grand as any of the above photos in the post, However I do like to think of this as ‘Hobbits, or just a very large door?’

    http://wp.me/p268wp-bt

    M.

  • http://www.flickriver.com/photos/phil_marion/sets/ phil marion

    Very useful tutorial. i ran out to the Sahara to give it a go
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/5403879638/' title='Erg Chebbi sand dunes in the Sahara- Morocco' url='http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5297/5403879638_6f1abb6319.jpg']

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    Great idea for a collection of images and I of course really liked the images themselves, especially the lead image. I photographed one of my photography students in front of an urban waterfall recently:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2012/2/10/architecture-exposure-dslr-photography-lesson-st-petersburg.html

    If I had read this blog post first, I would have made even more of an effort perhaps to show the scale of it all.

  • DK
  • Scott
  • john j

    Thanks for this article. I used this tip to show the size of this old tree.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gtyellojacket/6893407027/

  • Jerry Boehm

    Right on! I had recent opportunity to take some fairly close photos in a medical environment. The real impact of the size of a person’s wound was lost until I had a nurse place her gloved hand in the composition.

  • Ashiq
  • http://www.flickriver.com/photos/phil_marion/sets/ phil marion

    Lovin’ this tutorial. I had to run to northern Vietnam to give it a go…
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/6677220669/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • http://www.flickriver.com/photos/phil_marion/sets/ phil marion
  • http://www.flickriver.com/photos/phil_marion/sets/ phil marion

Some older comments

  • phil marion

    February 23, 2012 01:08 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/2259761091/in/set-72157603932200504/

  • phil marion

    February 23, 2012 01:08 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/2259761091/in/set-72157603932200504/lightbox/

  • phil marion

    February 23, 2012 12:59 am

    Lovin' this tutorial. I had to run to northern Vietnam to give it a go...
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/6677220669/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • Ashiq

    February 22, 2012 08:05 pm

    Thanks for the tips and samples.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashiqpm/3966371984/in/photostream

  • Jerry Boehm

    February 21, 2012 03:34 am

    Right on! I had recent opportunity to take some fairly close photos in a medical environment. The real impact of the size of a person's wound was lost until I had a nurse place her gloved hand in the composition.

  • john j

    February 19, 2012 09:02 am

    Thanks for this article. I used this tip to show the size of this old tree.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gtyellojacket/6893407027/

  • Scott

    February 18, 2012 10:11 am

    Here are two of mine.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/54827061@N02/5975671953/in/photostream/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/54827061@N02/5975672443/in/photostream/

  • DK

    February 18, 2012 09:18 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/morseg/3774322357/in/set-72157621941986324

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    February 18, 2012 06:32 am

    Great idea for a collection of images and I of course really liked the images themselves, especially the lead image. I photographed one of my photography students in front of an urban waterfall recently:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2012/2/10/architecture-exposure-dslr-photography-lesson-st-petersburg.html

    If I had read this blog post first, I would have made even more of an effort perhaps to show the scale of it all.

  • phil marion

    February 18, 2012 05:45 am

    Very useful tutorial. i ran out to the Sahara to give it a go
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/phil_marion/5403879638/' title='Erg Chebbi sand dunes in the Sahara- Morocco' url='http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5297/5403879638_6f1abb6319.jpg']

  • MikeC366

    February 17, 2012 09:21 pm

    I have noting as grand as any of the above photos in the post, However I do like to think of this as 'Hobbits, or just a very large door?'

    http://wp.me/p268wp-bt

    M.

  • Adam Woods

    February 17, 2012 08:39 pm

    Ha - that 'church' is actually Ely Cathedral, in the city of Ely, here in the UK, Cambridgeshire! I live very close, and go on shoots in the city all the time! Check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Little-Picture-Box/364025543614051?sk=photos and blog http://thelittlepicturebox.blogspot.com/ for more pics!

  • Jeff E Jensen

    February 17, 2012 03:17 pm

    Yup, a great way to add a sens of scale

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/09/climbing-baldy.html

  • Scottc

    February 17, 2012 11:23 am

    A great lesson with perfect examples!

    Here's a "steep" one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4724617165/

  • Bayu Kristianto

    February 17, 2012 11:21 am

    nice pics.
    you give me more knowledge and perspective about photography.

  • Mei Teng

    February 17, 2012 11:20 am

    Beautiful set of images. The use of human form does indeed add an element of interest to the images.

  • Bryce Wilson

    February 17, 2012 10:50 am

    One of your best Darren, thanks for great tips.

  • ColininOz

    February 17, 2012 09:54 am

    Applies also to huge bits of machinery. Like the container handling cranes at this Shaghai terminal.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/67900028@N08/6888563349/' title='Smoko Chinese style' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7189/6888563349_8d5d604011.jpg']

  • David

    February 17, 2012 05:31 am

    Very good advice.

    [eimg url='http://dfindlay.zenfolio.com/p303000647/h19e965fa#h19e965fa' title='h19e965fa#h19e965fa']

  • Rick (San Francisco)

    February 17, 2012 04:10 am

    Sorry - left out the sentence in question:

    Hey Darren

    Luv this post about using people as a scale of reference for some of our images

    Just wish to point out a little bitty typo in the following sentence - the caption under your sand dunes image:

    “The small lone figure on the sand dunes gives the impression of a vast dessert”

    I am sure you meant to say "desert" - altho' the sand dunes do look like tapioca pudding dessert...

    I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, on the desert...and the word was mis-spelled so much there...perhaps it was the desert heat!

    Also - is there a way we can find out what wide-angle lens/lenses were used to capture these images?

    Thanks Darren...and keep up the great work here with your teaching blog.

  • Rick (San Francisco)

    February 17, 2012 04:07 am

    Hey Darren

    Luv this post about using people as a scale of reference for some of our images.

    Just wish to point out a little bitty typo:

    <<>>

    I am sure you meant to say "desert" - altho' the sand dunes do look like tapioca pudding dessert...!

    I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, on the Sonoran desert...and the word was mis-spelled so much there...perhaps it was the desert heat!

    Also - is there a way we can find out what wide-angle lens/lenses were used to capture these images?

    Thanks Darren...and keep up the great work here with your teaching blog.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    February 17, 2012 03:30 am

    Hi

    This is a hot of Marilyn Munroe in Chicago - exact opposite to what this article describes as this is a 40 foot statue!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/marilyn-monroe-in-chicago/

  • juan

    February 17, 2012 02:43 am

    Very informative. Many thanks. Did you shoot these images yourself Darren?

  • Karen Runtz

    February 17, 2012 02:41 am

    Stunning examples. Hadn't appreciated how much the human figure establishes scale across such a range of situations.

    I'm not a professional photographer and just use a point and shoot, but love viewing images and learning. In that vein, I'm sharing an image I took on vacation a few years back. It wasn't posed, just reflects what I noticed when my then husband was walking across a beach, and it relates to your post. Would cropping improve it?

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/karenruntz/6886612115/' title='On the beach' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7068/6886612115_8edd913f25_z.jpg']

  • raghavendra

    February 17, 2012 02:24 am

    This is good, every time i see the portraits and landscape.
    I have done a similar image

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2011/08/being-lonely.html

  • Luke

    February 17, 2012 01:56 am

    One of the best posts I've read in a while.

  • Scott Thomas Photography

    February 17, 2012 01:50 am

    Best way to show scale as everyone has an idea of big people are. Excellent post, Darren.

  • Mridula

    February 17, 2012 01:41 am

    I agree, in the larger scheme of things!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2009/06/in-the-larger-scheme-of-things.html

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips

    February 17, 2012 01:40 am

    These are some really beautiful images. I especially love the little boy with the foggy, giant trees.

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