What's Wrong With This Picture?

November 16, 2017  •  2 Comments


As a landscape photographer my number one objective is to convey the beauty of a place and show what the world has to offer.  Sometimes that is easily accomplished. If the place is already photogenic you can choose one of a number of compositions and be assured that you will have a nice photo to share with everyone.  Sometimes though a place seems to have everything but once you get home you run into that "If only...." moment.  Take the picture below of the middle section of Gluggafoss in Iceland.  Lovely picture, right?  Two tier waterfall (I mean who doesn't love a good waterfall picture?).  Lush vegetation in a gorge.  The reminder that you hiked up a steep hill and had the place all to yourself.  All great reasons for you and I to enjoy this photo, right?  If only.... it had a sense of scale.

20170917_JMS_Iceland_151-34120170917_JMS_Iceland_151-341Gluggafoss, Iceland

Middle waterfalls of Glugglafoss, Iceland

How big are the waterfalls?  How deep is the gorge?  How wide is the river?  Hard to tell from this photo, right?  Why is that?  Because there is nothing in the scene that you recognize with a known or approximate size.  Let me set the scene for you.   I am standing on the side of sheer cliff approximately 15-25 meters high.  You fall off you die.  Each one of those waterfalls are themselves at a minimum of 20 meters high for a total drop of around 40+ meters.  Did you guess that?  Maybe if you know Iceland than you might be able to make a pretty good guess.  If not, I think it would be hard to tell.  While I still enjoy the photograph I think having something in the photo to show scale would allow viewers to get a sense of what I saw and felt as I stood there.  

Now let's take a look at two photos that incorporated something into the environment that can be used for scale, in both cases people.  The first is in Death Valley looking out from Zibrinski's Point.  Using a hiker in the environment gives you a better sense of just how vast this national park truly is.  

20170223_JMS_DeathValley_87220170223_JMS_DeathValley_872A hiker at Zibriskie Point

A hiker makes his way through Death Valley

20170919_JMS_Iceland_575-Pano-364-44620170919_JMS_Iceland_575-Pano-364-446Seljalandsfoss at golden hour, Iceland

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

The second photo is of Seljalandsfoss, a famous waterfall in Iceland.  See the person on the right behind the waterfall.  Now you have good idea just how big the waterfall really is.  By placing a person or any object that most people can recognize and can estimate the size of in a picture the viewer can get a sense of scale.  Now when you say, "that waterfall is huge!" they know what you mean!

Next time when you photograph something and you want your viewers to understand how grand or large something is, think about placing a person or other object in the photograph to show a sense of scale.


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J. Silkstone Photography
Thanks Sam for the great comment and I completely concur!
Issam (Sam) Kurt(non-registered)
Completely agree. I've found that some of my favorite photos are ones with people in them. People not only give a sense of scale, but also make a place seem more real... a person is visibly in the scene, easier to imagine one's self there as well. Conveys a sense of wonder, and possibility.
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