Photography Tips for Landscapes with People in Them

This is my jam: I love photographing people in nature. Give me a stunning landscape combined with a person enjoying the place and I’m happy with the camera. That’s why today I’m sharing some landscape photography tips with people in them.

You might think landscapes shouldn’t have people in them, and that’s fair. 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.

The tips below are going to talk about how to photograph landscapes with people in them. Whether you want to tell the story of a lovely setting or the scale of a particular place, being more intentional when adding people to your landscapes will help you achieve the desired effect. You can think of it as landscape photography with people in it or environmental portraits, but either way, the interaction between people and the environment can be a source of creativity.

people as scale

One of the most popular reasons you might hear using people in your landscape photography is because 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 such places cannot understand the scale without knowing that it takes seven people to hug a giant Sequoia.

Adding a person for scale can mean a small person in a large landscape to show how vast an area is, but it can also mean a person’s location on a trail to show how far away it is to a mountain or other details about the surroundings. . The person in the landscape adds some narrative, context, and perspective to what we’re looking at.

Sometimes your decision of 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. Then you’ll want to think about what your person is doing in the landscape. Are they sitting and admiring the view or walking through the scenery or are they doing a sport like walking, running or biking?

The experience of a place

When you start to think about the purpose of the person in your landscape and what they are doing, you begin to answer the question of how we experience a place. A landscape of a spectacular sunset shows the beauty of a place at sunset. A landscape of a person sitting relaxed watching that same sunset communicates the peace and tranquility we feel when we get to experience that sunset.

Adding movement can also say a lot. If we portray a hiker moving through the mountains or a surfer riding the waves of the ocean, 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 he is having.

This is one of my favorite things about landscape photography with people in it. Instead of just showing the beauty of a place, we can create a story about the impact beauty has on us. Every time I return from an adventure, it’s amazing to be able to share a glimpse of my experience with someone else through photography.

Vibrant 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 smaller details. For example, does the person blend into the landscape with complementary colors to the point where it takes a second for the viewer to notice? Or do they stand out from the landscape through the vibrant colors they wear or how they stand in a ray of sunshine?

Personally, I love it when the people in my landscapes wear vibrant solid colors, colors that pop from the background. The smaller they are in the image, the more important it is to help them stand out. If the person is larger in the landscape, it can be nice if they complement the background as in family photos taken in autumn colors. Another option is for the person to have very little detail and be just a silhouette.

Sometimes you can’t control the colors of your background or your theme. However, if you’re going to be shooting wildflowers, why not make sure your companions are wearing the colors of the wildflowers? If you’re working with clients or models, you can guide your wardrobe choices to match the aesthetic you’re going for.

Composition and Placement

The next thing to consider is how the person falls into the composition of your landscape. Where on the frame do you plan to place them? 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, and how the person contrasts or complements the landscape.

Below you will see how you plan to compose your landscape and how the person fits. Are you following the rule of thirds and need to put yourself in the spotlight? Or are you using guide lines 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, and then decide where the person should go to add them to the frame. Other times the person is the theme or key piece of the composition. Regardless, it’s time to remember the rules of composition and design techniques.

Summary

Let’s review some of the concepts we talked about:

  1. Use personas to add scale, dimension, and perspective to your landscape images.
  2. Decide if you want the person to be the subject or the landscape to be the subject that a person is a part of.
  3. What the person is doing can help add context, movement, and history to your photograph.
  4. Tell a deeper story than what a place looks like, tell the story of the impact a place has.
  5. Pay attention to details like color and contrast to help your persona stand out or complement the scene.
  6. Use your composition techniques to decide where to place the person in the frame.

It’s hard and feels impossible to “do a place justice”. When we get out into nature, it can be life changing, mood altering and perspective changing. No wonder we want to share that experience through our art.

While we can’t capture the entirety of a place simply by clicking the shutter button, we absolutely can use what we know about art and design to tell a story or create a photograph that evokes meaning and feeling for the viewer. That is the challenge. And for me, it’s part of the joy of photographing people in nature.


About the Author: Brenda Bergreen is a Wedding Photographer in Colorado, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works with her husband at Bergreen Photography. With her mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” They are dedicated to telling stories of adventures in beautiful places.

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