Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


November cover image

Picture This: Using Scale
in Landscapes

Scale objects and a sense of depth bring dimension to photographs.

By Earl Nottingham

We all know that Texas is a big state with big and beautiful landscapes. Its mountaintop vistas, deep canyons, vast prairies and miles of shorelines attract photographers worldwide who attempt to capture its visual majesty and magnitude.

For photographers standing on that mountaintop, surveying the landscape with their stereoscopic eyes, it’s easy for them to look out over a three-dimensional scene and easily discern just how big (or small) objects really are. Many times, however, the “wow factor” of a three-dimensional scene is often lost within the two-dimensional limitations of a photograph.

In order to create more of a dimensional presence in a photograph, there are two techniques that can be used when shooting.


Above, a hiker on the foreground rocks gives scale to the overall scene and informs the viewer of the relative size of objects. Below, a person at the base of the tree gives the tree a sense of scale.


The first is to enhance the feeling of perspective. Make sure that a scene includes foreground, middle ground and background elements such as rocks, hills, trees, etc. This will give the viewer a sense of depth. While this front-to-back arrangement can imply the size of objects, it can’t let viewers know their size with certainty.

The second technique is the use of scale, which lets the viewer see an element’s true size by comparing it to another object of known or recognizable size, most often a human form. Scale gives us a known visual “hint” that allows us to distinguish the relative sizes of objects. Understandably, it may go against the grain of many outdoor photographers to put a person in a landscape, so it’s possible to include other recognizable objects such as an animal or a structure like a fence or barn.

The use of scale can be enhanced if several objects of known size are included from the foreground to the background. Obviously, an image can easily get very busy with too many elements, so use them artistically and judiciously.

Additionally, a wide-angle lens, with its natural tendency to stretch perspective, will accentuate the relative size and distance of two identical foreground and background objects. This can sometime create a very unnatural, or even comical, look, especially with people as subjects. How many times have we seen the vacation shot of someone pushing up the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Consider adding a scale object to your next landscape. It might just make the difference between an OK picture and one that says “Wow!”

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For more on TP&W magazine photography, go to our Photography page


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