Using the Human Figure in Landscape Photography, Part III – A Matter Of Relationship

Using the Human Figure in Landscape Photography, Part III – A Matter Of Relationship

This is part III of my multi-part article about the use of humans in landscape photography. Part I is here. Part II is here.

I am back again exploring the implications of including people in your landscape photos. Today I want to share some of my opinions on the main factor to consider when deciding whether to opt for a photo devoid of any human presence or, conversely, whether to leave the people in.

In my case, the deciding factor is almost always the relationship between the people and the landscape. The question I ask myself is whether there is such a relationship and whether such a relationship adds or subtracts from the image, as I mentioned in Part II.

The concept of relationship can be broken down in two separate, but related (excuse the pun) aspects:

  • Relationship of meaning, and
  • Compositional relationship.

The first kind of relationship exists when the people in the picture have a reason to be there and are therefore related in some way to their environment. The picture below might serve to illustrate this.

Longing

I took this picture while sailing across the Aegean Sea. We were passing by the island of Nisyros while the sun was setting right behind it. I could have easily zoomed in (and in fact I did) but I also took a few shots with a wider angle, including some passengers at the edge of the frame. While the guy standing there is probably just admiring the sunset, I like to think of him as somebody who left his home on the island long ago and is now returning to it.

Maybe I’m just imagining things, but to me, his is a longing gaze. Photography succeeds when it elicits emotions in the viewer and if I have succeeded in conveying the same emotions I was experiencing at the time, then I feel I have succeeded. The version with just the island is nothing more than a nice sunset picture.

In the photo below, there is no meaningful relationship between the people and the environment. They just happen to be walking along a walkway in the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, simply because there is no other place they could be walking. There is no emotional connection visible between them and the beautiful nature they are immersed in, so their presence conveys no emotion other than a mild annoyance at seeing how crowded that place can be.

Wooden walkways in Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Coming now to compositional relationships, here is another example.

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The two people sitting at the bottom of the picture break the symmetry of the composition. When I look at it, I start from the top, follow the sun beams down towards the center, I linger on the cross, then descend down the column and end up looking at the human figures, where my eyes can rest. The human presence provides a sort of closure to the examination of the photo.

Notice also how the dark pavement below acts as a blocker, preventing the viewer’s gaze from dropping out of the bottom of the image.

This concludes, for now, my series on humans in landscapes. If you, my dear readers, would like to suggest further avenues of exploration, please leave a comment below. I will collect your feedback and see if there is a need for a follow-up.

In the meantime, please consider joining my photography community. There is a huge present waiting for you!