It usually begins with an apology. "Sorry..." they'll say sheepishly, as they scuttle out of the way of your camera pointing towards a gorgeous landscape scene. "No worries!" I'll cheerily shout back. Little do they know that this self same landscape photographer actually wants some people in the shot.

Of course, there are some landscape photographers who'd rather not have people there. They prefer the pristine unspoilt view to be enjoyed in its natural state. And sometimes so do I. But not always.  As often as not I'm looking for that person to include, the final ingredient to make up the photo I've visualised in my head and the mood and emotion I'm looking to create.

So what I offer below are a few of the reasons why I like people in my photos. 

1. People can help give a sense of scale

This sunset was certainly dramatic enough as the golden orb of the sun slipped down behind a thin veil of cloud, diffusing the light across the sky and glistening off the waters of the Atlantic. But it was the single surfer heading resolutely out into the last of the evening's breakers that really caught my eye as I composed this shot. This tiny person, almost lost in the vastness of the sea and sky around him, gives a hint of just how expansive this whole scene was.

One snowy and misty day from the top of Cavehill, with the taller buildings of Belfast emerging from the mist below the hill. The majestic sweep of the Mournes, floating in some far-distant misty sea. That was the background and mid ground sorted in this shot. The foreground could have simply been the top of Cavehill itself. But I got myself in position and waited for a couple of figures to walk by. The scale of the whole shot is helped by their inclusion, helping with that sense of the distance shown here from Belfast to the Mournes.

2. People can be a strong focal point in a photo

Sometimes having your people as tiny little dots in a picture gives the sense of scale. But sometimes you want to get up close and use them as a main feature in your shot. 

There is something about mountains that seems to draw people to climb them. And capturing this interchange between people and the landscape seems fitting sometimes. Especially on occasions like this when you've just summited Bearnagh, one of the more challenging mountains in the Mournes, scrabbling up the steep slope in the thick snows of deep winter. he views from the top were like nothing I've seen before in Northern Ireland. And it seemed entirely appropriate that one of my shots featured fellow photographer Ryan - man had conquered mountain, and man was feeling justifiably pleased with himself!

Sometimes the pose can be a bit more subtle though, and the person not quite as big in the shot. As my eyes move around this image, they keep getting drawn back to Paul as he enjoys a quiet moment of rest surveying the scene before him after the challenge of the ascent. 

3. People can help tell a story in a photo

The best photos stir the emotions. The best stories do that too. So If you can combine those two in one image, so much the better. I could tell Gary's story and what prompted him to do this on the summit of Doan. But, if I've done my work properly in this shot, you should be imagining your own story. What was it like to stand here? What was he feeling? How you I feel if I was standing there? What must it be like to be immersed in a scene like this? 

People can give you a way into a photo. They can help fuel the imagination. They can prompt you to ask questions and help you see yourself seeing the scene. What story do you imagine in these photos...?

4. Two's company - when people share a moment

Sometimes being out in your own in a dramatic landscape can be just what the doctor ordered - solitude, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life can be very therapeutic.

But there is something about sharing an inspiring landscape moment with someone special. Double the joy - being inspired by an amazing view. And the sharing of this experience, whether spoken or unspoken.

Whether it's a quiet father and son moment like this one on the Giant's Causeway...

...or a romantic stroll along East Strand, Portrush, while the sky around you burns with an orange glow.

5. People can make dramatic silhouettes

With my car parked over the undulation of the road, in the wee small hours of the night when no-one else was around, it seemed like the perfect time for a bit of fun with this selfie. I come in peace, honestly...

The misty day as the sun set late in the afternoon in winter at Portstewart Strand bathed the whole beach in a coppery glow. This couple enjoying a Sunday afternoon stroll made for the perfect silhouettes to bring this scene to life for me.

Again, there was drama a-plenty in this marvellous sunset. But the silhouetted people, out walking their dog on the sands of Portstewart Strand, transform this shot from simply another nice sunset to a story unfolding before our very eyes.


So next time you're out for a walk and you see a photographer taking some shots, maybe you want to slow down a bit rather than scuttle on past. You're not in the way, honestly. There's no need to apologise.

And if you end up in the photo, you too may fire the imaginations of others who view the shot, as they vicariously enjoy and enter the moment through you.

 

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