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Establishing Size
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Establishing Size

One of the primary differences between looking at a scene in person and looking at a photograph of it is that in person you have numerous cues as to the size of objects. A cow, a car, or a pumpkin somewhere in the scene helps shape your sense of scale. When you compose a photograph, though, you eliminate many of these clues, leaving viewers to wonder about the size of objects; subjects that appear only inches tall may in reality be enormous, and vice versa. The more unusual or obscure the subject, the less able we are to judge its true size without help.

While almost any object of known size will provide such cues, the human form is perhaps the most universal indicator. In the photograph of the giant hand, for example, it would be impossible to guess its true magnitude without having the children as a measuring stick.

What to do if there are no size cues handy? Creative use of framing can indicate size. In photographing a lone pine tree, for instance, you can make it seem larger by moving closer to it and filling the frame; or, you can move farther away and make it appear more diminutive by giving it less space in the frame.

You can easily turn the tables on reality by using your knowledge of size recognition. One method is to use a wide-angle lens close to a foreground subject to make it appear to loom over a much larger object in the background. It's important when using this technique to set as small an aperture as possible to keep both foreground and background in sharp focus.

Alternatively, you can disguise the scale of a scene altogether by eliminating any visual cues to size. Abstract images often work best when the viewer is left without any hint of the real dimensions of a scene.

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