Cavatori (Quarrymen) by Enzo Cei
One of the most fundamental questions that always occurs when looking at a photograph is also one of the most powerful tools we have in composition — the question of scale. It's a natural reflex when looking at a photograph to want to know how big a thing we are looking at. With most photographs, it becomes fairly obvious — a person, a tree, a mountain, a house, a car — there's usually something in the photograph that gives us a representation of scale. In fact, the object of scale is usually so obvious that we don't give it much thought.
Occasionally, however, an image like this one by Italian photographer Enzo Cei demonstrates how crucially important this business of scale can be. In fact, without it this image would be significantly diminished. It's only when we see the silhouette of the quarryman near the top of the photograph that we truly understand the scale of what we are looking at. In fact, it's only with that sense of surprise discovery when our eye finally finds him that we understand the photograph completely.
Because scale is so fundamental to the appreciation of a photograph, it can also be one of the most powerful tools we use with conscious attention. We can use it purposefully as in this photograph to create space. We can also intentionally obfuscate scale, as is often done in abstract photography, to create a certain sense of confusion and add mystery to what might otherwise be perfectly straightforward. That is to say, we can use the sense of scale to clarify an image or to add a sense of abstraction, but we ignore it at our peril. It's an easy thing to forget in the midst of all the other in-the-field decisions like shutter speed, f-stop, white balance, focus point, depth of field, — yikes! It's all too easy to forget about something as simple as the challenge of representing scale — or it's inverse, misrepresenting scale — in the composition of a more powerful photograph.
If you have a copy of LensWork #20, take another look at Enzo Cei's portfolio and you'll see that he is a master of this aspect of composition. So many of the images in his project work incredibly well because of the way he plays with scale. There is a book of this work, too, although it's in Italian and might be difficult to locate. If you can, it's one you should add to your library because it's a terrific project whose photographs are well worth studying for all that can be learned from Cei's creative eye.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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