Translating a three-dimensional scene onto a flat image can be problematic. Luckily, our brains are exceptional at recognising the indications of depth and perspective that we as landscape photographers employ while shooting. You may, for instance, shoot a line of trees running off into the distance, each of similar height and equidistant spacing. In both reality and the finished picture, the first tree appears visually larger than the last – yet your senses interpret this disparity and relay the correct impression that they are in fact the same. The brain performs corrective feats so effortlessly; it comprehends and makes allowances for such situations because, even when viewing a photograph, it has the real world to benchmark from.
Understanding this opens possibilities to the canny photographer, especially when you realise that what is lacking in the example described is a true sense of scale. Imagine you are on a beach, photographing a foreground rock set against a backdrop of others in the sea. When viewing the final image, your brain understands that the foreground rock isn’t actually as big in relation to the backdrop as it might appear, but it can only estimate the scale. Rocks (just like trees) come in a variety of sizes after all. The trick is to include something in the frame that has appreciable scale. Try moving in close and replacing that rock with, say, a starfish, and suddenly you have introduced it. In your photograph, the starfish may even take more space per inch than your backdrop, yet you have provided a useful reference point for your brain to analyse the rest of the scene.
Of course, you could take it further still by simultaneously providing a point of recognisable scale in your background – especially if your brain knows it is physically larger than the object in your foreground.
Read this article, and many more, in High Definition, inside Issue 32 of Landscape Photography Magazine.