Using the Human Figure in Landscape Photography, Part I

Using the Human Figure in Landscape Photography, Part I

When people think of landscape photography, what most have in mind is a pristine wilderness, completely devoid of any human presence. In this day and age, however, landscape that is untouched and not shaped by the human hand has become very hard to find and many popular and beautiful locations are often overrun by hordes of tourists.

While landscapes with no people in them are often sought (and I even created a tutorial on how to remove crowds from a photograph) sometimes a human presence can enhance what would be a rather ordinary scene instead.

The photo below, for example, is just a nice but not particularly spectacular shot of the shores of Pemaquid Point, Maine. If you look closely, however, you will notice a woman sitting on the rocks, looking towards the open sea.

Lone person sitting on rocks in front of the ocean

The presence of that lone person, to me, provides a focal point that would otherwise be missing and naturally poses questions that infuse the image with more meaning: Is she contemplating the vastness of the ocean? Longing to cross that distance? Remembering someone who left long ago? Or is she simply bored while her photographer boyfriend is busy taking pictures around the place?

I have to admit the latter option is very likely, from what I remember, but let’s not be too prosaic and mundane.

In this case I think the presence of a living human being adds to the landscape and doesn’t make us want to clone-stamp it away in Photoshop. This is not always the case, of course, so it behooves us to ask ourselves in what situations people in the frame make a photograph more interesting.

Before we are able to answer that question for a specific image, we should ask ourselves these other ones:

  • Are the people in a meaningful relationship with the landscape?
  • What role do the human figures play in the composition?
  • What can the human presence tell the viewer?
  • Are there too many people in the photograph?
  • What if the human presence is implied rather than shown?

Examining these questions in detail would take up too much space for a single blog post, so I am going to make this one the first in a series of posts about the benefits of including people in landscape photographs. Stay tuned for the next ones.

Update: Part II is here. Part III is here.

Meanwhile, I am including below a gallery of some of my best landscape images with people. I hope you will like them.