Frames of reference

Advice to all on the subject of frames of reference and photography....

Although I occasionally explore abandonments, I usually do a lot of draining, so I found out quickly that I needed a frame of reference in most shots to convey the scales of things I'm shooting with my camera.  I almost always have someone else with me on most expeditions, but one day I found a really cool tunnel, and I decided to do it alone rather than to wait for anyone else to come with me.

It turned out that this particular tunnel went for a couple miles, and there were great sights to be seen all along the length of it, so I came back with loads of pictures... all without any frame of reference.  I had pictures of tiny tunnels that looked like they could have been gigantic, and then there were pictures of huge sections that were 15' tall that looked like they were only a few inches high.  I found that I had to explain each and every shot to every viewer because otherwise they didn't know what they were looking at.  I've never even posted that series of pics on this site because of that.

Since then, I always try to include something or someone in the shot in order to orient the viewer as to the scale.  On a wide shot, I'll try to put myself or another explorer into the frame.  Ideally, the person should be touching the wall or something else in the shot so that it is clear exactly where in the field (s)he is.  With as many different kinds of lenses and photographic techniques there are, it is impossible to rely solely on the focal length to gauge where a person is standing, especially in an unfamiliar environment.

For close-up shots, I usually drop something famliar and recognizable into the image to convey the dimensions immediately and meaningfully.  For example, a dollar bill or a soda can are often readily available and can be placed near whatever you are trying to photograph.  I suppose most casual visitors to this site assume it's an accident when they see this, but If I'm looking at the floor, I will put my foot into the frame near anything I'm photographing.  It doesn't detract from the subject so much as it grounds it in our reality.

A similar issue is that, not only can the scale be confusing, you might also not indicate the orientation of what you're photographing.  There are times when you encounter vertical shafts in drains, utility tunnels, etc., where there is nothing to indicate whether you are viewing things horizontally vs. looking up or down.

With most abandonments, there's always a door or window or staircase that tells the viewer the viewer how big things are elsewhere in that particular image.  However, if you're photographing an object or area where the scale is ambiguous or out of the ordinary, it just makes sense to include something in the shot that will convey that extra bit of information to give the image meaning.  Have the foresight to do that and cut through the confusion right from the start.


Copyright 2006 Alexplorer.
Back to the Urban Exploration Index