Conveying a sense of scale in your images

Andrew Beck Andrew Leave a Comment

Have you ever come across a scene and though to yourself “How on earth am I going to capture that in a way which will do it justice?” You’ll have to forgive me for referring back to my time in the Masai Mara once again but this was an issue that many of the guests faced.

On one of the mornings we headed towards the Tanzanian border to see whether the previous nights rain had caused a stir in the herds we had seen south of the border. This was the scene that greeted us…

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The first instinct for many of the guests was to grab their wide angle lenses in an effort to try and convey the sheer scale and numbers of wildebeest that covered the plains. As many of them soon realised, sometimes its more effective to get in tight on your subjects when you are wanting to covey a sense of scale. Lets have a look at some examples.

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I spotted this rock monitor taking refuge in a hole in a Leadwood Tree in Madikwe Game Reserve and my first instinct was to grab a wide angle lens and include a lot more of the beautiful patterns in the tree. Before I even changed lenses i realised that this wasn’t going to work. Getting in tight (in this instance with a focal length of 400mm) allowed me to show my subject in its environment whilst still conveying a sense of the size of the tree that it was hiding in.

Had I gone with the wide angle option, my subject would have been so small that the context of the image would have shifted from the monitor to the tree itself.

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This is possibly the best example of where getting in tight on your subject can help to convey a sense of scale. Here, a single wildebeest is isolated from the herd at a focal length of 600mm and, using a shallow depth of field (f 5.6) the rest of the herd seems to fade away into the distance. The fact that no environment is even visible within the frame helps to create a sense that this herd must have covered the plains as far as the eye could see. In reality it was a large herd but the images that I took with a wide angle lens just didn’t do it justice.

Creating a sense of scale in your photographs

Often when we are trying to convey a sense of scale we want to include a reference point in our image to show how big or small something is. This may take on the form of a tree, a big blue sky, open expanse of grassland or even a water body. Here I narrowed down my focus to isolate this young elephant calf, using the frenzy of legs surrounding the little guy to emphasise his size. The fact that only the legs and bellies of the rest of the herd are visible helps to convey a sense that this young calf is so small that the rest of the herd literally tower above him.

The rock on the bottom left of frame, although unintentional, pushes this point even more.

The next time you are in the field try to use longer focal lengths to convey a sense of scale in your images, regardless of whether you are trying to show how big or how small your subject is. If you have any examples of where you have used longer focal lengths to convey a sense of scale in your own images, why not share them on our Facebook Page.

Andrew Beck

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