Landscape photography is one of my favorite genres. I love a beautiful mountain range or a shimmering sunset on the water. There is something peaceful about waking up before dawn, grabbing a cup of coffee and heading out on your own for a quiet morning with nature and your camera.
However, as a mom with young children, it is hard to get up before dawn and spend a morning away from home. So since it is so difficult to get away by myself to take pictures, I’ve learned to creatively add people into my landscape photos, and have been thrilled with the results.
For spring break this year, we traveled halfway across the country to visit my dad in western Washington. I had big plans to get up every morning before sunrise to take pictures of the sun coming up. I had mapped out all of the stops that I wanted to make while traveling to various parts of the Olympic Peninsula. But, when we got there, the weather was overcast and dreary.
Oh, and we wanted to take our kids everywhere we went, which pretty much excludes shooting during key parts of the day. And, kids like to photo bomb. Instead of making myself crazy over keeping them out of the image, I decided to embrace it and include them.
Landscape images almost always exclude people in order to focus on the beauty and grandeur of the scene. But when used effectively, inserting a human element to a landscape can add a story to the scene and enhance the image.
Including family or friends in landscape images from a vacation or outing adds a personal touch and helps the photographs stir lasting memories of the trip. Here are a few ways to add people into your landscape images:
- No.01Follow your usual composition rules
You may want to bring attention to the fact that you have a person or people in your image. Or, you may want to include a person in your image, but want the landscape to be the main focus.
Rule of thirds placement, leading lines, and any other composition techniques that you normally use can all work to draw attention to the main focus of your image.
While on the Olympic Peninsula, we spent most of our time near the water. Our boys loved to throw rocks into the water and to watch the waves come in. This image shows them observing the shoreline, but also includes details of the rocky beach and the stormy skies.
Placing the horizon at the top rule of thirds line and the low angle allows the details in the foreground to stand out and draw the viewer in. This keeps the main focus on the rocks, but the centered position of the family allows them to hold their own weight in the scene.
- No.02Be intentional
No photo bombing here. Pay attention to human placement within your image. Think about your composition ahead of time so that your subject does not appear to be randomly walking through your image or accidentally included in an awkward location.
Use the landscape to your advantage. Naturally occurring lines, S curves or movement within the landscape draws the eye to people in your image. This was a beautiful trail through a local park in Arkansas.
By waiting for the runner to pass and shooting then image when he reached the right rule of thirds intersection, the runner is at a position in the scene to which the eye is naturally drawn.
The curve of the path also leads to the runner, further drawing attention to his activity within in the landscape.
- No.03Tell a story
A human element can change the story of the landscape image, or even create a story when there may not have been one without it. People may not be the main focus of the shot, but if used correctly they can pique the viewer’s interest.
Without the tourists along the boardwalk at Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic pool, this would be a beautiful, quiet, shimmering scene. But by including the tourists, we see that people are a regular part of this place, enjoying it, posing for vacation photos and photographing it from all angles.
In this case, the tourists aren’t distracting from the beauty of the place, but adding clues to the specific location along this pool.
- No.04Make the landscape the main subject
The Arkansas River Trail in Little Rock is a busy biking and walking trail. Details from the sign give us clues as to where we are and the type of area, but the people walking along the pathway behind the sign reinforce that message.
The people in this image may not be a focus, or even overly obvious, but by including them, they can enhance the story of the location.
- No.05Allow your person to share the scene
Without the person, this image would be a beautiful picture of an ocean sunset framed by a tree. However, placing my husband in the scene adds another layer to the shot.
I took the photo on a walk down the beach and allowing him to share the scene not only emphasizes its beauty, but adds a personal element.
- No.06Make your person the subject
Let your landscape support your subject and help tell the story of the person in your image. My son spent much of this morning at the beach in Panama City, FL trying to catch jellyfish in his net.
By including the wider landscape around him instead of just details of him and his net, we get a sense of where he was and the surrounding ocean. An uncluttered landscape fades into the background to keep the focus on my son’s activity.
- No.07Show the enormity of the landscape
Small children or even adults can illustrate the expanse of the landscape surrounding them.
Using a wide angle lens to photograph my son at the beach brings more of the landscape into the image, making him small in the scene. We see how expansive the shoreline and hills are compared to a small boy.
- No.08Interact with the landscape
Show your children interacting with the landscape. This is a great way to incorporate landscape images into family and vacation images.
Think about what a person might be doing in that area or time of day. Examples can vary widely, such as climbing a tree, running in the water, jumping off of a rock, or walking along a path.Don’t be afraid to use your imagination!
Whenever we get near water, our boys want to play in it. They will spend hours throwing rocks or running into and from the waves. This is true whether it’s a cold northern beach or a warm southern shoreline.
Catching my son mid-step implies movement as he runs away from the waves. The photo effectively captures the motion and power of the waves without my son by the waves, but adding him cemented that theme.
People are not typically included in landscape imagery. However, incorporating people into your images is a unique way to tell a story. They can play a main part in your landscape or be a small part of it that helps to emphasize your story and to will help to personalize the beauty of your environment.
Whether you are photographing strangers in a landscape or your own family and friends, intentionally placing those people to support your overall theme will allow the viewer insight into your experience at each location.