Photography tips for landscapes with people
That’s my jam: I love photographing people in nature. Give me a beautiful landscape combined with a person enjoying the place and I’m happy. That’s why today I’m sharing some photography tips for landscapes with people.
You might think landscapes shouldn’t contain people, and that’s right. However, sometimes adding a person to a landscape photo can tell a deeper story of the scale or experience of a place. And I think that’s what I love, trying to capture the spirit of a place and not just how beautiful it is, but how it makes me feel and the impact it has on my life.
Upcoming tips will talk about how to shoot landscapes with people. Whether you want to tell the story of an enchanting environment or the scale of a particular place, having more intentionality in adding people to your landscapes will help you achieve the effect you want. You can think of it as landscape photography with people or environmental portraits, but in all cases the interaction between people and the environment can be a source of creativity.
people as ladder
One of the most common reasons you might hear for using people in your landscape photography is that they provide scale. Take a place like the redwoods or Sequoia National Park where the trees are larger than life. People who have never been to these places cannot understand the scale without knowing that it takes seven people to hug a giant sequoia.
Adding a person to scale can mean a small person in a large landscape to show how large an area is, but it can also mean placing a person on a trail to show how far away it is. finds a mountain or other details about the surroundings. The person in the landscape adds narrative, context and perspective to what we are looking at.
Sometimes your decision on how to include the person will make the person your subject, while other times the landscape remains the subject of the photograph and the person is part of it. Next, you want to think about what your person is doing in the landscape. Are they sitting and admiring the view or strolling through the landscape or playing a sport like hiking, running or biking?
The experience of a place
When you begin to think about the purpose of the person in your landscape and what they do, you begin to answer the question of how we experience a place. A landscape of a dramatic sunset shows the beauty of a place at sunset. A landscape of a person sitting relaxed looking at that same sunset communicates the peace and tranquility we feel when we experience that sunset.
Adding movement can also say a lot. If we capture a hiker moving through mountains or a surfer riding ocean waves, the story becomes even more complex. It tells a story about the place, how it feels, and now also where the person is going or what kind of adventure they are having.
It’s one of the things I love most about photographing landscapes with people. Instead of just showing the beauty of a place, we can create a story around the impact beauty has on us. Every time I come back from an adventure, it’s amazing to be able to share a glimpse of my experience with someone else through photography.
Bright colors, complementary colors or silhouettes
From a practical standpoint, once you’ve selected your landscape and determined how a person interacts with it for the sake of your photography, you can pay attention to some of the fine details. For example, does the person blend into the landscape with complementary colors where it takes a second for the viewer to notice them? Or do they stand out from the landscape through the bright colors they wear or how they stand in a ray of sunshine?
Personally, I love when people in my landscapes wear vibrant solid colors, colors that pop out of the background. The smaller they are in the picture, the more important it is to help them stand out. If the person is taller in the landscape, it can be nice to complement the backdrop, like in family photos taken in fall colors. Another option is that the person has very few details and is just a silhouette.
Sometimes you can’t control the colors of your backdrop or your subject. However, if you’re heading out to photograph wildflowers, why not make sure your companions are wearing wildflower colors? If you work with clients or models, you can guide their wardrobe choices based on the aesthetic you’re going for.
Composition and set up
The next thing to consider is how the person fits into your landscape composition. Where do you plan to place them in the frame? Start by considering everything we’ve talked about so far in terms of the scale you’re trying to communicate, the experience you’re telling the story of, and how the person contrasts or compliments the landscape.
Then you will consider how you plan to compose your landscape and how the person fits in. Do you follow the rule of thirds and need your person at the forefront? Or do you use guidelines and need your person to go somewhere along the way?
Sometimes I find it helpful to imagine how I would compose the photo without a person, then decide where the person should go to add it to the frame. Other times, the person is the subject or the key element of the composition. Either way, it’s time to remember your composition rules and design techniques.
Let’s review some of the concepts we talked about:
- Use people to add scale, dimension, and perspective to your landscape images.
- Decide if you want the person to be the subject or the landscape to be the subject a person is a part of.
- What the person is doing can help add context, movement, and story to your photo.
- Tell a story deeper than the appearance of a place, tell the story of the impact of a place.
- Pay attention to details like color and contrast to help your person stand out or complete the scene.
- Use your composition techniques to decide where to place the person in the frame.
It is difficult and seems impossible to ever “do justice to a place”. When we get out into nature, it can be life changing, mood altering and perspective changing. It’s no wonder we want to share that experience through our art.
While we can’t capture an entire location just by clicking our shutter button, we absolutely can use what we know about art and design to tell a story or create a photograph that will evoke meaning and feeling for the viewer. This is the challenge. And for me, that’s part of the fun of photographing people in nature.
About the Author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado Wedding Photographer, videographer, yoga teacher and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “Love. Adventurous. They are dedicated to telling stories of adventures in beautiful places.