Freeman on... Capturing scale
There are lots of techniques for conveying a sense of scale in your images, or for manipulating scale to add interest
Get more creative by playing with scale in your shots
Size matters. Well, at least some of the time it does, and photography has a special relationship with showing how big, or small, things are. That’s because the camera is so good at recording scenes and situations with great accuracy – except for the third dimension. Much of the time we don’t think of this as an issue, because as viewers we’re thoroughly used to taking clues from the scene inside the frame to work out how large one object is in relation to another. In a portrait of someone standing some distance in front of a house, we know the relative sizes because of familiarity, even though on a print the building may actually measure smaller than the person. In other words, scale in a photograph is all about the clues we take from the setting and from what we’re familiar with.
So far, so obvious. But we can mess around with the clues in a variety of subtle, and not so subtle, ways. There’s a whole raft of techniques that range from changing focal length to adjusting your viewpoint so as to juxtapose one subject against another, and these can help you to enhance the sense of scale, or confuse it. The difference between these two approaches matters, because the default mode for photography in general is ‘show and tell’ – in other words, to explain clearly. That makes sense when you have a clear view of what you want to get across to your audience, but creatively, the opposite may be more appropriate – to challenge expectations and to sow confusion. Here we can see both at work, some techniques reinforcing a clear sense of scale, others suggesting the opposite in the hope that the viewer will spend longer looking and thinking.
Of course, not all images are concerned with scale, and often it takes a back seat to other matters, such as moment, light and gesture. But when the size of the subject is unusual, or plays a role in an image, these techniques can be used to convey that.
Giant statues make impressive subjects if you pay attention to the sense of scale. This Buddha in Sukhothai is viewed from an unusual overhead position, and the lines converge to reveal the extremely small figure of a praying man below