8 Ways to Show a Sense of Scale in Landscape Photography

By September 22, 2019 June 5th, 2020 Composition, Landscape and Travel Photography, Photography

One of the biggest challenges in landscape photography is creating images that look more like what you saw in real life. 

You’ve probably had that experience where you stood in awe next to a grand landscape, yet every photo you take doesn’t do it justice. You want to capture what you see and feel, but it seems impossible to replicate with your camera. 

Often, this is due to the inability to depict depth and scale in a scene. So, how do you make your photo look more like the reality that you witnessed? 

In this post, we’re going to discuss the different tools and techniques you can use to show a sense scale in landscape photography. This way, you can make your photos look more alive and have your viewers feeling the same emotions you felt! 

1. People

Waterfalls, Iceland

One of the best ways to demonstrate scale in your image is by including people in it. It’s also a powerful tool in evoking awe and inspiration from your audience.

Seeing a person absorbed in a landscape compels viewers to imagine themselves in the person’s shoes, immersing them in the scene.

Using a person as a point of reference can invoke sensations of the sublime and can turn even a mediocre photo into an interesting one.

When including people in your photo, try to capture them when they are engaged in an activity or surroundings. Doing so is one of the best ways to demonstrate the connection between the person and the environment, making the scene appear more natural.

If you are unable to capture them in action, you can position your subject in dynamic poses to display a similar effect. 

You can do this by highlighting the person’s shape. Make sure to position their arms and legs so that there is space between them and the body. Making your subject bend their legs or extend their arms is a great way to manufacture the illusion of movement where there is none.

If there’s no one around to photograph, try taking a self-portrait. You can do this easily by using a tripod and a remote trigger or a timer. 


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2. Silhouettes

Silhouettes are perfect for creating mystery, excitement, and drama in an image. 

Humans have a natural tendency to fill in gaps in information. When you reduce your subject into a dark solid figure in an image, the viewers will be naturally compelled to complete its missing details. 

This is one of the most excellent ways to keep the viewer involved in a photograph. As your viewers mentally construct the obscured features of your subject, they become active participants in your photo’s visual story. 

Silhouettes are also often outlined by a beautiful glow, similar to that of a solar eclipse.

This visual effect can be evocative and stunning when applied in an image.

When photographing silhouettes, remember to choose a subject with an easily recognizable shape or outline. 

Since you can’t rely on visual features such as contrast and colors, you’ll have to choose a subject that your audience will be familiar with without this information. If you use a silhouette, your viewer recognizes, your image is likely to hold their attention.

One easy way to recognize a good subject is by squinting. Squinting simplifies a scene into a series of general shapes which allow you to make better compositional decisions.

If you’re photographing a human subject(s), make sure that their arms and legs are not attached to their bodies. Also, make sure that their bodies are not overlapping with each other. 


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3. Man-Made Structures

Using man-made structures is another excellent option to demonstrate scale in your composition. These can be any human-made objects such as roads, windmills, cabins, and automobiles.

For example, if you’re photographing a wide-open lake, including a nearby cabin or a boat in your shot can help indicate its vastness to your audience. Plus, images of lakes tend to look generic and making use of outside elements, such as a colorful boat, is a great way to make your composition stand out. 

If you’re photographing mountain ranges with a nearby village, see if you can find a way to include both in your composition. Climb up a viewpoint and capture the mountain with the village at the base. 

By doing so, you’ll not only emphasize the size of the mountain range but also provide your viewers with a stunning point of view. 

Another favorite of mine is ruins by cliffs. Using ruins to demonstrate scale is a great way to infuse drama in your image. When photographed under the right lighting conditions, they can be hauntingly beautiful.

At first, it may seem like human-made structures and nature don’t belong together. However, the juxtaposition can do wonders for the imagination. 

Adding a human-made structure in your landscape composition can transport the viewer to the location of the photo. They help demonstrate scale in a way that can turn a mediocre photo into an engrossing one.

4. Wild Life

Eagle takes flight over Grand Canyon USA

When you think of nature, animals are some of the first things to come to mind. So why not include them? They add a sense of belonging and cohesion to a photo that a person cannot. 

Vast landscapes create a majestic surrounding for animals. Birds, horses, and livestock are all great compositional elements you can include in landscape picture as a reference for scale.

Wildlife also adds an attractive focal point to your landscape pictures. Just like people, it’s best if these animals are in motion. Photographing animals while they are moving is a great way to make the image look natural and alive. 

When photographing wildlife remember to utilize the rule of space. That is, make sure you leave ample space in the direction where the subject is facing. If the animal is in motion, make sure that there’s sufficient space in front of it. 

By leaving ample space in front of your subject, you create curiosity in the minds of the viewers. Instinct compels us to follow another’s line of sight to see what they are looking at. 

You can use this tendency to manufacture the sequence in which your audience views the elements in your photos.

For example, suppose you want your audience to look at your subject first and then explore the rest of the photo. You can use the rule of space by first positioning your subject so that it’s facing the landscape. Then leave enough space between the subject and the landscape to make your audience follow the line of sight to the rest of the scene.

The rule of space works exceptionally well for subjects in motion. Leaving plenty of space in the direction where the subject’s going, helps create the illusion of movement in still photos, making it more alluring.

5. Trees

Trees are another item you can include in your photo to demonstrate scale. Placing a tree in your foreground, for example, can help your viewers easily understand the magnitude of your background. 

Trees are particularly useful when photographing landscapes and cityscapes because they are easy to find.

They also provide the added benefit of giving your image a point of interest. Trees come in a variety of interesting forms which makes them ideal elements to use as focal points. 

By including trees in your composition, you can provide your image with visual interest while at the same time giving it a sense of scale. 

6. Converging lines

lonely tree in lavender

Converging lines are made of two parallel lines that meet and vanish into a single point. When the viewer sees these lines coming together in an image, they perceive it as visual cues for depth. 

These lines usually start in the foreground of a landscape image and extend to the background where they meet and vanish. The more gradual these lines converge into the distance, the farther away the background will seem to the viewer.

Adding these lines in your landscape image can help viewers understand its immensity and depth. 

Converging lines come in many forms. They can be made of diagonal, curved or straight lines. They can be both physical and implied. That is, they can be physical entities such as rivers, streams, and bridges. Or, they can be implied, such as sun rays, water ripples, or separate objects formed in a line.

The converging lines give the image a sense of depth. But in actuality, there is no depth, and the image only has two dimensions.

Other than demonstrating scale, converging lines are also useful in drawing the viewer’s attention to your subject. In photography, such lines are called leading lines.

Our eyes naturally follow lines to where they meet and vanish in the horizon. Thus, by placing your subject where these lines converge, they can heighten visual importance.

7. Vantage Point

Changing your vantage point, or the position from which you take a photo is another way you can demonstrate scale in your image. 

Elements in your image take on a different shape and form depending on the vantage point you use. By changing your vantage point, you’ll be able to alter your image’s overall sense of depth.

For example, using a low vantage point is an excellent way to emphasize the height of vertical subjects such as trees and towering buildings. This is especially true when you photograph with a wide-angle lens.

The wide-angle view has the effect of making tall subjects appear even more massive. It increases the expanse of the sky and makes tall objects appear immense and dramatic.

To highlight the expanse of a landscape, shooting with a higher vantage point is often more ideal than with low vantage points. With high angle shots, the viewer can observe a scene in its entirety and get a stronger understanding of how far landscapes can go.

Similar to low vantage points, using wide-angle lenses with high viewpoints can be beneficial.

Wide-angle lenses provide a wider field of view, giving the viewer more information about the background of a scene. Most landscape photographers use these lenses to emphasize the breadth of a landscape.

High viewpoints also have the added benefit of instilling a sense of transcendence and freedom in your images. The elevated perspective can make the viewer feel like they are on top of the world. By capturing these types of pictures in your landscape photography, you are sure to create feelings of transcendence and freedom.

8. Focal Length

Patagonia Mountains Zoomed In

The type of lens you use can play an important role in the overall depth of your photograph. All lenses help showcase scale to a degree, but they vary in the result. It’s important to know which focal length to use for your specific purpose.

Wide-angle lenses produce more distortion than narrow lenses. You can take advantage of this effect to emphasize scale in your images. A great way to do this is by lowering your camera and tilting it slightly upwards to make elements in your image look taller. This will stretch objects near the edges of the frame, making them appear larger than they are.

Wide-angle lenses are also ideal when trying to emphasize the extensiveness of a landscape. These lenses enable the viewer to see more of a scene which makes them a perfect tool for conveying the wideness of a scene.

That being said, wide-angle lenses tend to make background elements appear smaller than they are. Thus these lenses are often not the best to use when trying to emphasize the scale of distant subjects such as mountain ranges.

To show scale from a distance, opt for a telephoto lens. Telephoto lenses magnify far away objects and make them feel within reach. These lenses are often used to highlight intricate details such as patterns and textures.

However, unlike wide-angle lenses, telephoto lenses are not ideal for showcasing the full breadth of landscapes. These lenses create a narrow scope of view and are best for reducing a scene to only the most important details.

One Comment

  • Hemant Jha says:

    Very useful information. I’ve been taking landscape photos all my life but still wasn’t aware of a few points mentioned here.
    Thanks a lot.

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