Thursday, June 04, 2009

People as scale, focus and compositional element

click photo to enlarge
I've said elsewhere in this blog that people are rarely the main subject in my photo- graphs, family snaps excepted. However, I do value the contrib- ution that the human figure can make to an image. Moreover, in one area of photography I search for people where others would make every effort to remove them.

Perhaps it's my interest in painting that makes me include people in landscapes wherever it's possible. Look at landscape paintings from the Italian Renaissance through to the twentieth century and you'll usually see figures somewhere. Titian has them, Breughel too, the English landscape painters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries invariably include them, as do the Impressionists. But, from Cezanne onwards, and particularly where an element of abstraction is introduced, landscapes start to appear that are devoid of the human form.

On the other hand, perhaps it's because I don't compose images around people that I include them in landscapes. I think not however, preferring to see my reasons for their inclusion as three-fold. Firstly, people can give scale to those scenes that aren't always easy to read in terms of the size of the objects on view. Secondly, our eye instantly recognises and is drawn towards the human form, so it immediately confers a point of interest or focus to an image. The third point arises from the second: given the visual importance that we attach to a person in a photograph, a figure can be a useful compositional device. Moreover, even if the figure is quite small it still has a lot of visual "weight". So, a relatively insignificant, distant figure on the left of a scene can quite easily balance a large and prominent object on the right.

Today's photograph exemplifies my first two reasons for the inclusion of people. I took several shots of the Humber-facing point of this aquarium in Kingston upon Hull called "The Deep". The thrusting, prow-like shape and the aggressive architecture (by Terry Farrell & Co.), alongside the navigation lights and markers, make for an interesting photograph, even when taken against the light. But, when a family came into view at the base of the building I knew that their inclusion would add scale and a point of interest that would add significantly to the image.

photographs & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 61mm (122mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/800 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On