I recently had the pleasure of judging a weekly photo challenge with f-stop, a gear manufacturer for whom I am also a brand ambassador. The theme I chose for the contest was Landscapes with a Human Element. I chose this based on my own love for landscape and cityscape photography, especially ones with a human element included. Aside from being the contest judge, I also gave some thoughts and tips behind shooting these types of photos. That contest is now over, but the photography must go on, so I’ve republished those tips here, as well as in the YouTube video below.
Landscapes with a Human Element
We all know that landscape photography has the power to bring out the beauty of a location in an almost magical way. However, it can sometimes be challenging to come up with a unique landscape photo, especially when the location has been photographed hundreds or even thousands of times. Adding a human element can enhance your landscape photo, help set it apart, and can even create a deeper connection with the viewer.
Why Add a Human Element?
- Adds interest – seeing a human figure tends to draw the viewer in naturally, and in some cases can make a fairly ordinary scene extraordinary.
- Helps with composition – the human element can serve as the focal point or “anchor” for the composition, it can help add balance, or even help fill negative space in the frame
- Gives a sense of scale – including a human figure in a landscape photo immediately helps the viewer realize how big or small a space is, which helps adds impact to the image overall.
- Helps tell a story – this can be literal, for example including a person in a traditional outfit or someone in uniform. It could also be something with a bit more mystery and drama like silhouettes or people with their backs turned to the camera, where the viewer is encouraged to imagine their own story.
Take note that this doesn’t work for every scene, and sometimes a ‘pure’ landscape or cityscape works better. But be on the lookout for those times that the human element is exactly what’s needed to complete the picture.
- Use landscape photography rules and techniques. Basically, shoot as you would shoot a landscape or cityscape image. Do research about weather, sun position, shoot at golden hour/blue hour, use filters, etc. The photo should generally be able to stand on its own even without the human element. Just be careful with long exposures, as you may record the person’s movement.
- Decide where to place the human element in the frame. Sometimes this is easy and obvious like a path, tunnel, or doorway, but sometimes more unique opportunities will present themselves. For example, in this sunset photo, I used a nearby traffic mirror to include the elderly gentleman who was enjoying the sunset. Use composition techniques like frame within a frame, silhouette, reflections, leading lines, rule of thirds, etc. to help you decide where to place the human element.
- Capture the decisive moment or peak of action. Look for moments where the human subject is in the most dynamic or interesting pose. If it’s a walking shot, capture them mid-stride. Go for interesting facial expressions or gestures. For silhouettes, make sure there is separation so that the human form is clearly visible. Don’t just shoot one frame. Anticipate the moment and shoot all the way through: before, during and after peak of action.
- Lens choice. A landscape shot doesn’t always have to be ultra-wide. Medium and telephoto lenses can be powerful tools for making landscape images as well. For example, if you want expansive vistas with sweeping lines, then definitely go with a wide angle. If you want to compress the scene a bit more and bring in distant objects like the sunset, far off mountains or buildings, then telephoto might be a better choice. Pick the focal length that will best apply to your scene.
- Shoot versions without the human element. Be sure to give yourself multiple options. If you change your mind later and decide that the human element doesn’t really work for you, then you’ll have other versions to choose from. You’re already set up, so might as well make the most of it.
So that’s about it! I hope you find these tips helpful when creating your own landscapes or cityscapes with a human element. The most important thing is to tell your story and express your vision about the place and the people moving within it.
Thanks for reading and catch you in the next one!