Sense Of Scale

Composition dictates that we place a frame around the world before us. The lens we use, the depth-of-field effect we choose, and most importantly the elements of the scene we choose to include and exclude make up the final image. There are numerous compositional gambits, including sense of scale, where we include familiar elements in a scene to help establish size, distance, and, metaphorically, our sense of importance, or lack of same, of the object or subject used to establish that sense of scale.

This month’s assignment, Sense of Scale, was all about those contextual elements that help create the optical illusion, if you will, of distance and size in a two-dimensional plane. We received many photos of people in overwhelming landscapes, urban scenes that looked like scale models, and that used wide- and ultra-wide-angle lenses to enhance the sense of scale sensation further. Tricky, true, but all’s fair game and part of the photographer’s creative arsenal.

Monument Valley

Framing the horse and rider in the mid distance and the formations in glorious Monument Valley further back, Henry Hamlin created a visual play that attracts the eye into and through the frame. He worked with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi and a Tamron 28-300mm lens. © Henry Hamlin

Balloon Festival

The child standing in front of the inflating balloon at the Wine and Balloon Festival in Manito, Illinois, gave Coby Cooper a great opportunity to express the amazing size the balloons achieve. Exposure with a Canon EOS Rebel XSi and a Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 lens was f/11 at 1⁄250 sec. © Coby Cooper

Burj Khalifa

Jana Pitcher worked with a Nikon D300 and a 12-24mm f/4 lens to enhance the immense size of this skyscraper even more in juxtaposition to the buildings around it. Exposure was f/8 at 1⁄40 sec. © Jana Pitcher

Mont St. Michel

Taken from the monastery out back over the flats at low tide, you have to look very closely to see the small figures at the top of the bottom quarter of the frame. Karen Glowacki made this photo with a Nikon D60 and a Nikkor 18-55mm lens with an exposure of f/8 at 1⁄250 sec. © Karen Glowacki

River Canyon

Sometimes it’s all about placement and light and the figure that sets the scale. In this photo, made by Steve McBurnett in the Paria River Canyon, Utah, all the elements are just right. Exposure with a Canon EOS 40D and an EF 24-105mm lens was f/8 at 1⁄90 sec. © Steve McBurnett

Farming In Iceland

The sense of scale in this photo makes you feel both the immensity of the landscape and isolation of the farm within it. Exposure by Ed Wright with his Canon EOS 7D and Tokina 12-24mm lens was f/18 at 1⁄80 sec at ISO 400. © Ed Wright

Waterfall In Iceland

Here’s another photo where placement makes it work, with the small figure placed perfectly at the base of a thundering waterfall. Kirit Vora made this photo with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and an EF 24-105mm lens. Exposure was f/4.5 at 1⁄400 sec. © Kirit Vora

Solitary Sunrise

Taken from a 12th floor vantage point the sunrise on the ocean was splendid enough, but Christoph Harman added to the grander sense of scale by waiting for the figure to walk into the frame. Exposure with a Nikon D80 and a Nikkor 18-200mm lens was f/5.6 at 1⁄500 sec. © Christoph Harman

Lincoln Memorial

While impressive enough, especially for those who have stood before it, the size and mass of the Lincoln Memorial is expressed best photographically by juxtaposing a figure before it. Boyd L. Alexander did just that using a Nikon D7000 and a Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 lens with an exposure of f/7.1 at 1⁄1000 sec. © Boyd L. Alexander

Windmill Farm

You only know how huge some of these windmills are when standing close to them or driving by, but here Paul Hoffmann gives us an idea of their size by juxtaposing a freight train ambling by at the base of the frame. Exposure with a Canon EOS 40D and a Canon 18-200mm IS lens was f/9 at 1⁄2000 sec at ISO 200. © Paul Hoffmann

At A Crossroad

Scale gives us a sense of distance as well, where we figure it from comparing a subject whose size we know to its size in the overall scene. Of course, the focal length we shoot with adds to the calculation as well. Suresh Gupta helps us ponder all this with this photo made in Kenya with a Nikon D80 and an 18-200mm lens shot at 95mm and exposed at f/8 at 1⁄125 sec. © Suresh Gupta

Paris Site

When photographing from on high and from far away, the people around the Louvre Pyramid seem like so many figurines in a model set, but their size helps us see the architectural grandeur of this site like we might never appreciate from ground level. Irwin H. Segel made this photo with a Nikon D80 and a Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens. Exposure (from high up in a Ferris wheel) was f/11 at 1⁄320 sec at ISO 400. © Irwin H. Segel

Death Valley Dunes

Look very carefully at the center of the scene at the far right edge of the frame and you’ll see the perfect placement of the solitary figure beginning an ascent of the slope of the dunes. Roger Raepple made this photo with a Sony A900 and a Sony 24-70mm lens with an exposure of f/18 at 1⁄320 sec. © Roger Raepple

Delicate Arch

The sense of scale here is echoed through the scene, from the figure adjacent to the arch to the arch itself, which is then put into its “place” by the billowing clouds overhead. John M. Barra made this photo with a Canon EOS 40D and a Canon EF 75-300mm lens with an exposure of f/11 at 1⁄200 sec. © John M. Barra

Niagara Falls

From this vantage point the packed tour boat alongside the falls seems in precarious position, and the enormity of the size and power of the falls makes the boat seem small indeed. Frank Goroszko made this photo with a Canon PowerShot A720 IS with an exposure of f/4 at 1⁄500 sec. © Frank Goroszko


Picture This! – Our Next Assignment
Patterns In Nature

Our next Picture This! assignment is Patterns in Nature. The great outdoors offers many opportunities for startling photographs, with shape, color, and texture all in play. We’re looking for images that rely on the natural world as a source of inspiration that show us all how powerful and exciting images from the natural world can be.

This photo was made in the geyser area near Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park with a Canon EOS 7D and an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens. Exposure was f/16 at 1⁄60 sec. © George Schaub

Please Read This
It is important that you read and follow these guidelines. We need to follow this procedure because of the large volume of images we receive. If you have any questions, please e-mail us at:

1) Images sent to us cannot be returned. You retain complete copyright over the images, but do grant us permission to print your image(s) in the magazine and on our website,

2) Because images are not returned please send a quality print or duplicate transparency. We will not accept or view images on CD, ZIP, or any other electronic media.

3) Images will be selected on the basis of content and technical quality. Please mark your outer envelope with the topic of the month (for example, “Wide View”).

4) Enclose a short caption with the image stating camera, lens, film and exposure, plus location. If you are submitting an image with a recognizable person we must have a model release or signed permission from that person to reproduce their image in the magazine and on the website.

5) Please submit no more than three photos for consideration (4x6 up to 81/2x11).

Send your image and information to:
Picture This! Shutterbug Magazine,
1415 Chaffee Dr., Suite #10, Titusville, FL 32780.
Deadline for submission: November 15, 2011.
Images will appear in our February 2012 issue.
Our next topic: Close-up Fill Flash
Deadline: December 15, 2011
Publication Date: March, 2012

Please note: We receive hundreds of submissions for Picture This! each month and want to be sure we properly identify each image we publish. Please be sure to attach your name and image information to the back of each submission.

Want to see images selected for past Picture This! assignments? Go to and click on Picture This! in the “More Articles…” box on the homepage.

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