The Perception Of Proportion

How big is it? How long does it last? These are the most basic questions a scientist can ask about a thing. They are so basic to the way people conceptualize the world that it is not easy to see that they imply a certain bias. They suggest that size and duration, qualities that depend on scale, are qualities with meaning, qualities that can help describe an object or classify it. … Scale is important.”
~ James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science

I had spent years trying to click people free photos or cropping them out completely, until I realised the importance of scale. Of the need for a point of reference to aid perception. Especially in the case of monumental architecture or spectacular landscapes.

I do still forget sometimes. Here are a few instances where I didn’t (or just got plain lucky)

The tiny figures at the base of the 200 metre high Tianlong (Sky Dragon) Bridge in Wulong County, China and the young girl dwarfed by the columns of the hipostyle hall of Karnak Temple (above) demonstrate the massive scale of both structures.

Dhamek Stupa SarnathA devout Buddhist nun meditating beside the Dhamek Stupa, Sarnath.Ngorongoror National Park, TanzaniaThese tiny Masai figures on the floor of the Ngorongoro crater demonstrate the vastness of that space.Stepped pyramid of Djoser in Giza, EgyptThe stepped Pyramid of Djoser – believed to be the earliest large-scale cut stone construction.

Happy travels….no matter where life takes you.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

100 thoughts on “The Perception Of Proportion

  1. Fabulous images, Madhu! They certainly demonstrate scale, proportion….. Like you, I usually take people-less images unless I am illustrating people interacting with their surroundings, for example in street photography!

  2. Tiny Masai – sounds very ironic, considering Masai are generally very tall. I tried to take pictures of two Masai men (in Delhi), and I couldn’t fit them into one frame!

        1. Your election results would qualify as en example for scale as well……what a rout!!! 🙂

  3. Man, you DO get around don’t you Madhu?! Love that you admitted to running out of patience on the last shot LOL ! All great shots of amazing places, well done!

    1. Thanks Tina. I am proud of my people free shots from some impossibly crowded places but Petra proved the exception 🙂

  4. Oh, I adore these! I am especially fond of the first two. The second one, in particular, I think, if I had to choose. But, of course, I don’t HAVE to choose! I am lucky enough to get to enjoy them all.

    And speaking of being lucky, I just saw your recent comments on my blog and felt so lucky again for having you there. Thank you for THIS, Madhu, and for THAT. 🙂

      1. I’m glad. I love reading yours, too, and getting to see your photos. Now I’m going away again, so no need to reply. Hee hee hee.

  5. Yes, these are reflection of the power of proportion…brilliantly captured, the location with it’s monumental architecture or spectacular landscapes are amazing…photography does depend on the location and the landscapes.

  6. Your photography is always wonderful Madhu, and you’re right, people or distinct objects do help the imagination see the subject in the right proportions. In your examples, all majestic!

    1. Thank you Elisa. You can’t beat Egypt for architecture of mammoth proportions. The fact that they were built several thousand years ago is mind boggling.

  7. Great images for the challenge, Madhu. Shots such as these really do cut us humans down to size, although apart from the Ngorongoro Crater, these huge edifices have all been built by lots of tiny human ‘ants’. One of the commenters on my ‘Scale’ post, asked the question, ” I wonder why man builds things that make him feel so insignificant?” Good question indeed. 🙂

    1. To make the person building it look/feel like GOD perhaps? I am selfishly glad those egotists walked the earth 🙂 Thanks Sylvia.

  8. Very nice set to show the proportions !! j ‘appreciate the photo with the Masai
    man finally small in the presence nature

  9. When we went to Maymont the other day, I tired quickly waiting for ‘people free’ shots. Given it was a Sunday and a gorgeous day in the middle of winter, there were too many other people around. Finally, I included them to represent ‘A beautiful day in the park’. Sometimes you gotta roll with it, and I’m glad you did, as your photo is breathtaking, and honestly the people add to the overall photo, since they portray a comparative ‘scale’ to the big picture.

  10. I didn’t know Petra was going to be that massive when I visited. That totally blew me away. Also, the columns in Karnak are so big even the people in the photo don’t do it justice.

    It is a good lesson to travel photographers to include a person for scale sometimes, especially if it is a local with some type of traditional clothes on. (If you can get that lucky!)

    1. Yes, we were unprepared for the scale of Petra as well. And the columns in Karnak were the hardest to capture without a wide angle lens because of the lack of room to manoeuvre. I did have an Egyptian man in a starling white turban wander into my frame in Edfu, but it hasn’t happened since. Fingers crossed that I’ll get luckier along the way 🙂

      1. I think the tourist board in places like Egypt need to pay photogenic people to wander around places like Karnak so we can get cool photos of them with the scale of the columns. Let’s work on that.

    1. Isn’t it? I remember thinking how both natural and man made landscapes in China vie with each other for magnificence 🙂

  11. In the early years of my travel I also tried so hard to take people-free photos. But later on I learned that having people in a photo isn’t always bad, sometimes it does give you a sense of how big, vast, deep, or high a place is, as you mentioned here. Because sometimes photos don’t do justice of an amazing place.

  12. I’ve always been fascinated with Petra. What a huge undertaking it was and their water supply system was a monumental task in itself too. Interesting how pyramids are to be found widely scattered around the world in spite of huge ocean distances between. It would be interesting to watch a time lapse video of the movement of peoples around the world and how common cultural knowledge went with them over time.

    1. I am endlessly fascinated by the cultural exchanges and resulting similarities between ancient civilizations too. Makes me want to climb into a time machine 🙂

  13. Madhu … Your photo of the Treasury at Petra is excellent for several reasons: the people do provide perspective on scale. But to peek thru the stones to the columns beyond is just a wonderful view. Thank you for sharing and reminding me to include the people. 😉

    1. Judy, nothing prepares you for that first breathtaking sight of the treasury! It does not match any monument in Egypt in antiquity, but the setting is pure magic.

  14. The snaps are marvelous. Just loved them all. Too good. I guess u have so much patience to get it all just the perfect. M a very common follower of your blogs and appreciate ur hard work. Thank u for the share. Keep posting with lots more.

    1. Hardly scary! 🙂 Apart from Sarnath and Ngorongoro, all were shot with a little P&S that didn’t require much skill! Literally point & shoot 🙂

  15. Gorgeous shots, Madhu! I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite. I appreciated the story of how you have come to appreciate people in your photos as a way of showing scale.

  16. These are really great shots ~ and I am much like your past thinking as well, as I go out of my way not to include people in my photos…yet with this post, you give a series of great reasons why it is important to include people. The importance of scale is what makes these shots so wonderful and beautiful. Cheers!

        1. That’s great Cornelia! Happy to help in any way. Drop me a line via my contact page.

  17. Wow Madhu you have visited some of the most impressive places, quite overwhelming in the scale of things. Just to think of the designing and building of those immense edifices so long ago with out the aid of our modern technology. Then to see the images you have caught with tiny insignificant people next to them I say again WOW…

    1. Thank you very much Pauline. Like I said before, I didn’t have to do much except to point and shoot 🙂

  18. Great photos and perfect of the challenge. What better way to give a sense of scale than by including a person. I really like the Massai crossing the Ngorongoro Crater.

  19. Look how the reds pop out in your pictures. It should be a mandatory color. 😊what a wonderful collection of extraordinary places. I’m leaning more and more to including people in pictures if it shows scale or portrays culture. It is a form of storytelling. Having said that, I prefer many architectural photos to be just that. No people.

    1. True Lynne, I prefer architectural shots to be people free as well. I hadn’t particularly noticed, until you pointed it out, that every single one of the above shots had a pop of red!! 🙂

  20. Thank you for this tip/reminder. I constantly take pictures that don’t include people in them and see how important it is to include them. If I can make that one simple change that results in more fantastic pictures like the ones you take, then I’ll consider that a major triumph in my artistic endeavors. I love the shots you included here.

  21. I’m curious. Why did you aim for people-free photos? I do too – partly out of respect for their privacy, and partly maybe so I can feel I alone have been in this place. That’s a crazy reason! This post is a good argument for their inclusion – and no privacy problems. At the back of my mind is the kerfuffulle over ownership of The Kiss photo I think

    1. Meg, I used to be very self conscious about clicking people. I am far more relaxed now, but do struggle with the ethics of it. I back off immediately, if I sense the slightest hint of displeasure.

  22. This post really hit home for me, because I too do people-free photos. These particular examples work so perfectly to show the importance of scale. Without the tiny human end of the scale, they would still be interesting, but there is a “gasp” dimension to my response that would be lacking. Incidentally, how often in your photos are the humans dressed in red — that “spot of red” that so often adds to much to a painting of a photo!

  23. How true, Madhu. One instantly gets a sense of exactly how enormous some of the natural formations, or those man-made, really are, through your lovely photographs… I enjoy your pictorial travelblog….!

  24. All great shots Madhu and so beautifully balanced with your well timed acceptance of the person who is not going to get out of the frame in any hurry. Wow on the Masai shot, brilliant!

    1. Patti, the problem in Petra was that there was always a person waiting to take the place of the one that moved away. A never ending stream of people who stopped at that exact spot to gasp in awe! 😀

  25. True. I always tend to not photograph places with people. But they are very important when you are trying to show scale.

  26. I wanted to see a Buddha with a pigeon, but these make me happy too. I think it is great that most of these human figures wear bright red clothes. Perfect examples, Madhu!

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