Playing with Scale

In Film, Nature, Travel

Sometimes my photography experiments are intentional, other times they happen entirely by accident in the moment, and then there are those experiments that I only realize were after the fact. When, in looking through my images, I see something out of the ordinary in my scans. That third type of experiment – the completely unaware variety – is the case of the images in today’s post.

Last summer, on the day of the big solar eclipse, my family and I were in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We weren’t along the line of the totality, but we were close enough to witness big shifts in the light, and that morning we took a hike up Jockey Ridge State Park, site of the tallest natural sand dunes in the Eastern United States.

Since the combination of sand and camera always makes me nervous, I took only one camera with me, a 35mm that I felt I’d be able to shield in the event any wind kicked up. I didn’t want to open it to change rolls while on the dunes, so I had 36 exposures maximum at my disposal. But it was also an historical event and my family’s summer vacation, so I really did want to make a set of images that would bring the strangeness and the singularity of this day back to us all years from now. There might not have been a client involved other than myself, but it was definitely one of those “make it work” situations that you’ve likely found yourself in before if you’ve been practicing photography for awhile. Personally, I find I learn something every time I experience one.

Once you walk past the park’s welcome center and the boarded walkways to the dunes, the landscape gets outsized and disorienting really quickly. The sun was blinding, the glare outrageous, and it was blisteringly hot. I wasn’t conscious of the decisions I was making in the moment. I was hiking, dealing with the extreme heat, fielding the complaints from my kids about the heat, and in the background, working the puzzle of how to make photos that would signify that day and place frame by frame.

I don’t remember playing with scale – making my people into specks upon the landscape in order to illustrate the scope of this place, but clearly, that’s how I chose to solve the problems I confronted. In this instance it turns out it wasn’t necessary to see their expressions to recall what they looked like, and these photos evoke the odd, end-of-the-world, carnival-like atmosphere of day – with picnickers carrying parasols and coolers, hiking up the dunes and staking out their viewing spots on the edge of the Earth.

And now the next time I find myself confronted with a human-sized subjects in an outsized landscape, I’m going to recall these images, and step back, back, and maybe back a bit more to play with the scale again.

Keep your eyes wide open,



  1. These images make you realize how insignificant we are in all of nature! Love them all.

    • Yes, exactly, and in that day and place, it felt like additionally, how insignificant we are in the greater universe, not just here on Earth.

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