Finding scale in New Zealand

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So often when taking photographs, we see something amazing, raise our cameras, take the shot, and walk away very pleased with ourselves. Until we get home and review our pictures. We were so impressed with how much larger or smaller than normal something was, that we just wanted to capture it so we could share it, but we forgot one very important thing… to give our photos scale. Taking a photograph of the largest ball of string in the world means absolutely nothing, if you can’t tell that it is really, really big.

When you photograph something because it is especially large or especially small, it is important to include something in the photograph to give the viewer a sense of the scale of the object. (I addressed this partially in an earlier post on the lava tubes of Lava Beds National Monument.) On a recent trip to New Zealand I came across several objects (animal, mineral, and vegetable) that gave me reason to include people and/or objects in my photos to give a sense of scale. These were subjects that were either especially large or especially small, but needed visual cues to help the viewer of the photograph to realize which.

A starfish. How exciting.

Aha! A star fish with a foot. Suddenly the audience realizes that this is a very small starfish, smaller than what they may be used to. If they realized how small my model's foot really is, they'd know that this guy is miniscule

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in documentary, How To, How To, marine life, nature photography, New Zealand, photography, SLR and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Finding scale in New Zealand

  1. Chris Knowles says:

    Providing scale really does make a big difference. Thanks for the lesson!

  2. Vicki says:

    I especially like the photo of the island(?) with the trees on top, just off the beach. Very cool looking. AS to scale, I’ve got some similar photos…the biggest ficus tree in the world was in Australia, how to get scale? It was impossible to get the whole tree and a person at the same time. i ended shooting the photo from the ground up, too much forest to get it from far enough away from the front. Suggestions?

    • The big rock/island is in Cathedral Cove, and is one of the more photographed areas on New Zealand’s North Island. (I believe it’s even in some of Air New Zealand’s ads.)

      Putting scale into a photograph of a tree can be very difficult, especially when it is surrounded by other trees. In these cases I recommend either using only part of a person (as I did in the photograph of a woman hugging the kauri), or using a recognizable, but smaller object to give it scale. Even something like a backpack, while not especially photogenic can help to give scale. If you get creative enough, the presence of a backpack can even help add a little narrative to an image.

      Another option, if shooting up a tree trunk, can be to place a person or an object up in the tree (if it is a climbable tree) and the smaller size of a subject up above can help emphasize the difference in size.

  3. Mattie Ivy says:

    Hey, I recognize those shoes. And that starfish. And the hermit crab, and the kauri tree. Must have been one lucky girl who got to model scale for you in New Zealand. ;)

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