Eliminate Scale

Photography makes it easy to visualize the world differently. By using various lenses and changing our position we can get closer to or further from the subject and we can change the composition dramatically. A technique I like to use sometimes is to eliminate scale to give a fresh view of a subject.

Not intimate landscapes

Intimate landscapes are popular and common. This is simply getting in close to a section of a landscape. It allows us to call attention to shapes and colors and relationships that would be lost in the immensity of a wide landscape scene. It is a classic technique and I use it a lot. I love it.

But this is not what i am talking about today. Most often in an intimate landscape, it is clear that the scene is a segment of a landscape or nature view. We get in closer to isolate the part we want to call attention to, but we keep the context of the overall landscape. If I make a close view of a rapidly flowing stream, it is clear that the context is a cascade in the mountains.

Aerial Photography

It is popular to make abstract aerial landscape shots. They can be beautiful and compelling. The shapes are organic and pleasing yet the scene is somewhat abstract because we can’t place what it is. Some well known photographers like Peter Eastway and Tony Hewitt are known for this technique.

Drone photography is also increasingly popular and available to more photographers because it is a lot cheaper. Drone photography is typically done at a few hundred feet elevation, as opposed to conventional aerial photography that is typically up to a few thousand feet.

The common characteristic of these is that the views are looking down, usually straight down, to a relatively flat plane. Scale references are usually missing, so the viewer is left to imagine the size of what is being seen. That is part of the fun of viewing them.


Jumping much further down the scale, another technique to eliminate scale is macro photography. This usually refers to images that are life size or closer. A life size shot is termed 1to1. This signifies that the image is the same size on the sensor as it was in real life. For a full frame sensor that means shooting a scene that is 24mmx36mm. That is getting close. Macro photographers routinely get much closer than this.

This type of shooting tends to get very technology-heavy. There are special optical techniques with extension tubes and bellows and reversing lenses to give the required magnification. Special tripod fittings are used for focusing, because the whole camera system has to be moved to focus. No auto focus here.

Lighting is another consideration that gets difficult. Macro photographers use multiple flash setups with bounces or ring lights or even light tubes to direct the lighting to the very small area being shot and eliminate glare.

On top of that, macro shots have extremely small depth of field. It is more and more common to use focus stacking techniques to record many, sometimes hundreds, of “slices” at different focal points. Special softwar combines it all to produce a final result. I have a friend who designed and built a robot system to automate macro and micro photography with steps of microns.

I am not saying these things as a negative against macro photography, I am just trying to place it in context of what I am discussing. Macro images are often great and intriguing because they show a realm we do not see with our eye. But I don’t have the patience to do it seriously. I prefer a more spontaneous style.


The particular kind of scale elimination I am talking about today I call pseudo-aerial. I haven’t seen the term anywhere. As far as I know, I coined it.

I do not lay out the big bucks to book a plane or a helicopter for a shoot. And I have not gotten a drone yet. I already said I don’t have the patience to do serious macro work. So I figured out a way to do my own brand of simulated scale-less images that mimic aerial photography.

I find small scenes with interesting shape or texture or color and with few if any clues for size and typically shoot straight down from a standing position, basically about 2-3 ft above the scene. The results are my own brand of abstract aerial photography that I call pseudo-aerial. It is sort of the macro version of aerial photography.

One advantage over true aerial photography is that subjects I shoot are often static. I can spend more time composing and moving freely, compared to being in an airplane. And I can spend longer on a scene, maybe waiting for the light to become “right”. Of course, the subject does not actually have to be horizontal, as long as I can get perpendicular to it.


There are some challenges, but they are pretty minor. Making sure my feet or the tripod feet are not in the frame is something to always check for. Likewise, being careful not to let my shadow intrude in the scene.

I often shoot these without a tripod. Without a tripod there is the balancing act of leaning out far enough to be perpendicular to the plane of the image and get my feet out of the frame and not fall over while making sure the shutter speed is fast enough to stop and motion. Yes, I have been off balance. Embarrassing but not yet damaging.

A bigger challenge is to visualize a small scene as if it were an aerial shot. Making sure there are no clues of scale, like grass or twigs or leaves to de-mystify it. Imagining the final image printed to check the impact and interest. Dare I say “pre-visualizing” it?


I will make it concrete with an example. The image presented today is one of these pseudo-aerials. It reminds me of an angry sea breaking on the beach, changing color over the sand and diminishing the violence.

In “reality”I shot it at my local car wash. The camera is upside down on the center console of my car, pointed up through the sunroof. In that position I had to use the camera’s app on my phone to view and control it and take pictures. Very little was done to the actual image data except to color it to match the effect as I visualize it.

A lot of experimenting (and luck) was needed to get the timing of the water and soap and brush movement to get an effect I liked. Plan to throw a lot away. But when it works, it can create a unique and interesting scene.

After describing my pseudo-aerials as shots looking down at a small static scene, I turned it upside down to show an example shooting up at my sunroof at a dynamic scene. I wanted to emphasize that the original orientation and details don’t matter. What matters is if the final result will be accepted as an abstract aerial shot. To me this does.

I like pushing the boundaries of the medium. This technique to eliminate scale seems to me to be a rich area for exploration. I intend to pursue it a lot more.

What do you think?

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