I've talked in previous posts about the importance of using objects of known size to show scale in landscape photos. But it's just as important to show the true scale of unusually large or small objects by including other objects that we can use as measuring sticks.
As with landscapes, among the best subjects to use as scale indicators (at least for large subjects) are people. People not only add some human interest to photos, but we're all pretty familiar with the size of another human being.
Getting a person in the shot usually isn't very difficult (especially if you have kids or friends with you), though it's funny how hard it can be to find one when you need them (and how hard it is to get rid of them when you don't). I shot this photo (at the annual Rhode Island Air Show) of a C5 Galaxy Transport plane well after the throngs of people had left and while there had been literally tens of thousands of people surrounding this plane earlier, I actually had to wait several minutes for this man and his kids to walk into the shot. The lone little grouping of people seemed to exaggerate the size of the plane more than a mass of people swirling around it.
I think the real sense of scale in the shot though comes from two other things: the truck that is parked under it's wing (with lots of room above it to spare) and the cluster of tiny human figures under it's wings. The plane is huge (it can carry more people than a 747--or transport 20 helicopters) and the tail section is so tall that I had to use the widest lens I had with me (an 18-70mm Nikkor) to get both the tail section and the nearby people in the same frame--and I still had to stay back quite a bit.
Scale comes in handy with small objects too--like photographing a bug sitting on a thimble or a tiny seashell in the palm of a child's hand. Come to think about it, showing the scale of small objects is a good idea for a future posting!
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