How to Add a Sense of Scale to Your Landscape Photographs
When the landscape before us is wide and far reaching and stretches to the horizon, it is natural to want to frame our image to ‘take it all in.’ Many grand landscapes are captured just like this.
Sometimes to add a sense of visual depth we bring a foreground object up close in the frame to provide a better sense of how deep the scene is. However, on some occasions, your camera position may not lend itself to framing something close to the camera and it is these scenes that might require a new approach to providing that sense of grandeur.
Placing a subject close to the camera generally requires a wide angle lens and while that helps bring that foreground subject into the frame, it also can visually ‘push’ the grand scene in the background further away. But if you are zooming out to capture a segment of the grand scene, you leave out most foreground details and this can leave your image lacking that sense of immensity.
You can solve that problem by adding an element of scale: human, animal, even plant, into your composition as a way to create the needed sense of scale. As long as the added element is recognizable to viewers who understand the size, you have brought that sense of scale to your image.
This is a popular approach to adventure imagery where a climber on a rock wall or a skier on the slopes or a boat in a river, and elk in the meadow, all give a sense of scale. When positioned in the middle to far distance of the composition, the element of scale often enhances the sense of expansiveness to the viewer. And it can also tell a great story, especially if the subject is doing something we can relate to.
In this image of fall colors, the photo would be pretty bland without the backpackers hiking in a meadow. But instead, they add a size relationship that provides us a sense of scale between the scenery and the activity.
This tent setup in a meadow provides that scale to this scene making the large mountain appear looming over the smaller camp setup.
Using a telephoto to compress this scene in the Grand Canyon, there are diagonals and shadows and highlights that make a nice composition, but the addition of the raft brings in that sense of scale and adds to the question of how big the canyon really is.
This mountain photograph by itself is fairly ‘ho-hum’ and the late morning light. The addition of the canoe adds a whole new dimension. Not only does it add scale, but it adds a central point of focus which adds to the story of what the photo is about.
We all know that Giant Sequoias are giant but how giant are they? Adding the hiker answers that question and we can see that those are really big trees.
These pinnacles of rock are also large but without something to give viewers a sense of scale, they may have no interest in a boring silhouette of rock formations. Here again, the addition of a climber provides a powerful sense of scale and changes the story form rocks to climbing.
Blurring water is a popular subject to photograph and details of flowing water are commonly photographed. Without the tree is another ‘ho-hum’ image. The addition of the tree does add scale, but I also believe in this case, it changed the story. The tree supported by water is a different story because the large landscape is gone. Instead you have a tree as central focus and a close-in detail on blurring water and you still have the tree anchoring the image and providing some scale.
And finally, the person standing in Arches National Park’s North Window brings a much needed sense of scale. Without that sense of scale we would be looking at a hole in ‘something’ but by adding the person to story has completely changed. By the way, that’s me! I used a radio remote to trigger the camera while I stood inside the window.
Not all great landscapes are made with something in the foreground and next to lens. Great landscapes can also be shot at a telephoto focal length, but if they just don’t tell the story about the grand scene before you, consider adding something that provides a sense of scale, and that can be you!
If you have any thoughts please leave a comment.