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Finest example of Scale in Photography

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You might have come across a word “Scale” with reference to photography. This is a concept where a common life-size object is used to express the different sizes inside a photograph. There are many photography masters who use this technique to capture a masterpiece. You can even see this being applied in some of the paintings that I had deconstructed a few weeks ago. You would therefore understand this is an ancient technique (since the time of paintings) that has proven useful across decades (to the time of photography).

Recently, I had discussed about a portrait by Jimmy Nelson. He travels a lot to the very least known places on the earth to capture the indigenous people. In some of his journeys, he captured some Landscapes as well such as the one below.


Jimmy Nelson – Horses crossing a frozen river



A simple landscape makes us ponder on how beautiful the view is. This one from Jimmy is very special from the other common landscapes out there. In this photograph, you could see vast barren mountain ranges, a frozen river and few horses with men crossing the river. Nothing more than some subtle colours may be added during the post processing part.

If there were no horses in this photograph, it might have been overlooked. Horses? Why would it be so important? Here is where the concept of “Scale” walks in. We have seen horses in our life that we could use the horses to instantly compare, in this photograph, how big the view is, the altitude from which the photo has been taken, how big the mountains or how long the river would be and the distance that the men are yet to cover.

The most important composition in this photograph is maintaining the horses over the river makes it a brilliant means of expressing that the river is frozen that the horses could actually walk over it.

Scale in photography is also about making a well known object/subject appear tiny, really tiny against anything which is large, very large. In the above photograph, the well known subject is Men & horses where the large subject is the mountain, landscapes and the river. So that our mind can calculate the larger object in relation with the known object and feel awestruck, great and fantastic.

Few are some examples from another photography master, Steve McCurry.

INDIA-10634, Two men climb into a beached ship that is waiting to be dismantled, Bombay, India, 1996.Scale2


As you could see in all the above three photographs, Humans are used to express how big the ships are and how ferocious the waterfall is. It is advisable to have a human when you try to show something enormous. Apart from the scale purpose Human can add more feeling to the photograph. Take the falls photograph for instance. The way both of the men are trying to stay balanced and get across without slipping into the water are some of the feelings you can notice at first glance of this photograph.

What is your photograph which you recall and would say as the best example for scale? Share the photograph, the source and your thoughts regarding the composition.

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Navanee Viswa

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