In landscape photography, one of the most challenging things to get right is to capture the scene so that it looks like it did to the naked eye. For newbie photographers, this can prove extremely frustrating as you take photograph after photograph of a jaw-dropping landscape and not capture the awesomeness. Not knowing how to capture the depth or the scale of the scene is the most common mistake. This is not always easy to do as you’re essentially trying to depict a 3-dimensional scene in a flat, rectangular image.
Here are some tips and tricks on using the scale in landscape photography that will go a long way to making your photos capture what you witnessed and felt. Essentially, what you need to learn is how to put the size of the scene into perspective.
The easiest way of adding perspective to a landscape is by including a person or people in the shot. Some regard this particular technique as being overused, but that’s because it is the simplest method to show the size of a majestic landscape. The other reason is that people are generally easy to find. The exact scale of a scene can be difficult to judge but, because people are similar in height, having a person in the picture will instantly give the viewer an idea of the landscape scale. The farther away from the person, or people, are from the camera, the larger the landscape will look. Some of the most dramatic landscape photographs are ones where the people in the picture are only just visible, making it easy for the landscape’s vastness to be perspective for the viewer.
Capturing wildlife in a landscape photograph has the same effect as having people in the picture. They provide a point of reference and thus make it easier for the viewer to judge the landscape scale. The problem with wildlife is that you can’t exactly ask a lion or buck to stand where you want them to stand. So, although animals help provide scale, it is rare to capture them and the picturesque landscape in the same frame. Or rather exactly when and how you want to. Of course, when you are presented with this opportunity, your picture will be far more ‘natural’ or less staged than one with humans. Trees and other natural objects can also provide scale to a photograph but, because trees and plants, and rocks vary in size, they are not quite as effective as people or animals.
Include manmade structures
Non-living, manmade structures can help add scale to a scene. However, the size of a manmade structure can be deceiving because they vary in size and don’t offer a definite scale. As a result, they make it possible to add depth and scale to a landscape photograph but it may not be as easy as using people or wildlife. Roads, houses, buildings, signs, fences, and other inanimate objects included in a landscape image will provide perspective and add to the overall composition of the photograph.
Use a drone
Drones have been a great addition to many photographers. The great thing about drones is that they allow you to capture new angles but also get up high to capture a view that can often help give a sense of scale. For example, an imposing mountain range from the ground may not seem that huge. But by capturing it from above with drone everything else in the scene will appear smaller whilst the mountains will keep the size. This help extenuate the sense of scale. The downside of drones is that there are many places that they are not allowed (such as US National Parks). But if there are no restrictions in place, think about flying a drone and see how it can add a sense of scale to your photos.
Think about your composition
Although some landscapes are impossible to reflect the scale, unless a person or animal, or building is included, many landscapes can be given perspective by how the photograph is composed. You can show the size of the scene by framing it carefully. One way is to keep more sky in the picture. A wide-angle shot of a vast sky, especially if there are some large clouds included, will give the viewer a good perspective of the landscape scale. Try to use leading lines such and cliffs and rivers to help the viewer navigate the scene and also to add scale as well.
Use different lenses
Camera lenses have different focal lengths. The longer the focal length, the more magnification there is because the viewer’s angle is narrowed. The shorter the focal length, the less magnification there is because the angle of view is wide. Different focal lengths can show scale in a landscape. Wide-angle lenses can make a landscape appear more expansive and more extensive than telephoto lenses.
A telephoto lens is a great lens to use when capturing a distant landscape scale. Many photographers may baulk at this idea as the traditionally wide-angle lens is considered the best option for capturing vast landscapes. However, that is the beauty of photography. There are no hard and fast rules, and some of the most memorable images are captured when experimenting. A long lens magnifies the subject and makes the scene larger-than-life because it shortens the distance between the background and the foreground. It also allows you to focus on a particular feature, like a waterfall or a farmhouse and makes the focal point more prominent.
It must be remembered that it is sometimes impossible to capture the magnificence of the scale of a landscape. In this situation, the inclusion of a person, an animal, or a manmade structure is your only hope of capturing scale. If nothing can be used to demonstrate the depth and scale of the scene, then use a telephoto lens to magnify a distant object like a mountain.
Adding depth and scale to a photograph is not an exact science, and sometimes it is simply impossible to capture the grandeur of a landscape in a two-dimensional image. However, by employing and experimenting with some of the techniques outlined in this article, you are far more likely to capture a landscape scene’s drama and magnificence in a photograph.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.