ITALY. Near Troina, Sicily. August, 1943. American troops march toward Troina, located on the main road to Messina (Sicily's main port to the mainland). The town was being fiercely defended by the Germans, in an attempt to evacuate all German troops.

A photography composition lesson: take photos from very far (or very close) to show a sense of scale.

For example, in some of these photos by Robert Capa, note how he makes people look super small; like ants:

ITALY. Near Troina, Sicily. August, 1943. American troops march toward Troina, located on the main road to Messina (Sicily’s main port to the mainland). The town was being fiercely defended by the Germans, in an attempt to evacuate all German troops.
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Near Namdinh, May 1954.
ITALY. Near Cassino. January, 1944. After a battle between the Germans and the US/Canadian First Special Service Force (an elite unit trained in mountain fighting).
ITALY. Mount Pantano, near Cassino. January 1944. French troops bringing food and ammunition to the American troops that had defended the hill for more than 4 weeks.
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Agrigento. July 17th-18th, 1943. After air raids, in the recently liberated city.
ITALY. Naples. W.W.II. Germans Mine Post Office.October 7th, 1943.
The main Post Office, destroyed by a time bomb left behind by the Germans before the liberation of the city.
La poste centrale après l’explosion d’une bombe à retardement déposée par l’armée allemande.
CHINA. April 7th, 1938. Taierchwang, Suchow front. The Battle of Taierchwang represented Japan’s first defeat and created a widespread optimism on the possibility for China of defeating Japan.
CHINA. Hankou. March, 1938. Children playing in the snow.
CHINA. Hubei. Hankou. July-September, 1938. After a Japanese air raid.
CHINA. Hubei. Hankou. July 5th, 1938. The German military advisers hired by Chiang Kai-shek leaving China. Ever since the invasion of China, the Japanese had been pressuring Germany to force these retire.
CHINA. 1938. Dr SHIH lecturing.
CHINA. May/June, 1938. Xian and the surrounding area.
CHINA. April 1938. Taierchwang, Suchow front. The Battle of Taierchwang represented Japan’s first defeat and created a widespread optimism on the possibility for China of defeating Japan. After the battle, the wounded walked several miles in order to reach the railroad track.
CHINA. Near Zhengzhou. June/July, 1938. As the Japanese advanced on Zhengzhou – the crossroad between the two major railroad lines of northern and eastern China, and the gateway to the Hankow region, CHIANG KAI SHEK to blow up the dikes of the Yellow River. The flood, which halted the Japanese only temporarily, inundated eleven cities and four thousand villages, destroyed the crops of 4 Provinces, and rendered 2 million people homeless.
CHINA. Near Zhengzhou. June/July, 1938. As the Japanese advanced on Zhengzhou – the crossroad between the two major railroad lines of northern and eastern China, and the gateway to the Hankow region, CHIANG KAI SHEK ordered to blow up the dikes of the Yellow River. The flood, which halted the Japanese only temporarily, inundated eleven cities and four thousand villages, destroyed the crops of 4 Provinces, and rendered 2 million people homeless.

Or this photo by Rene Burri, shot from a far distance; note the sense of scale and how small the people look. Shot with a telephoto lens from a tall building:

BRAZIL. Sao Paulo. 1960.

Or some epic scale photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson; note the lovely and simple dynamic compositions, with the subjects very small:

SOVIET UNION. Leningrad. Peter and Paul’s fortress on the Neva river. 1973.
ITALY. Abruzzo. Scanno. 1951.
SPAIN. Madrid. 1933.
FRANCE. Paris. The Palais Royal Gardens. 1959.
USA. New York City. Manhattan. Downtown. 1947.
INDIA. Gujarat. Ahmedabad. 1966. Women spreading out their saris before the sun.
GREECE. Cyclades. Island of Siphnos. 1961.
ITALY. Tuscany. Sienna. 1933.
“I was visiting the museum and happened to look out of an upstairs window, and saw this empty marketplace, stark in its lack of activity.”

Tips to photograph scale:

  1. Use a wide angle lens, take many steps backwards, and make your subjects look very small. Try to capture the surrounding architecture and scene. Make the landscape more dominant than the person.
  2. When shooting from a high angle, use a telephoto lens to zoom into the action (like what Rene Burri did with his famous rooftop photo).
  3. Think of the relation or the juxtaposition between the subject and the environment.

Street Photography Composition Lessons

For distilled lessons on composition, read the free ebook: “The Street Photography Composition Manual.”

Articles to improve your street photography composition:


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