Populating the Frame: Using People in Landscape Photography

Jun 29, 2008

Amongst the many talented photographers producing art today, there are disagreements on what makes a quality photograph. Some people use a light touch when processing their shots, while others create their final products by manipulating the original subjects into something else entirely.

Another topic of great debate involves the presence of people in landscape photography. Some photographers believe the view should speak for itself, while others choose to use a human element. There is no right or wrong answer, however; skilled photographers create masterpieces either way. Read on to learn when, how and why to populate your frame with people in your landscape shot.


Size is difficult to capture. A huge mountain range, an endless ocean, a deep cavern–the size of these natural wonders can appear lackluster on a screen. Including people in landscape pictures gives the viewer a reference point so they understand the scale of the subject, somewhat similar to how scientist place a ruler next to collected specimens in a snapshot taken for data.

A classic example would be a photograph of a large mountain range in the distance with a person’s profile silhouetted against it. The viewer now has perspective for how far the camera is from the person and the mountain range, and will be awed by how dwarfed the person is by the mountain in the background.

Repetition and Contrast

Repetition, in photography as well as music, is appealing to the senses. In photography, repetition takes the form of a visual motif or pattern. Repetition, like straight lines, occurs somewhat sporadically in nature, but it is everywhere in civilization. If you’re thinking about populating your frame, consider taking a shot where the people are highlighted by repetition, such as a line of hikers hunched over their walking sticks, a group of Boy Scouts in identical uniforms, etc. Some of the best and most famous photographs present viewers with glaring contradictions. Try meshing the wild of nature with the orderliness of human beings in a few shots and see how it looks.

Call of the Wild

On the other side of the coin, we human beings are a part of nature, and skilled landscape photographers also capture moments where people blend into the landscape. These photographs send a completely different, and no less true, message than the ones we described above. It all depends on what suits your fancy, how it looks in the frame, and the point you’re trying to make.

Learn the Craft with Landscape Photographer Jim Steinberg

If you’re interested in learning the art of landscape photography from expert Jim Steinberg, please visit our homepage for more information!