When children see an illustration showing a human standing next to a brontosaurus, the size differential between the two can elicit exclamations of wonder. Adults, too, can be impressed when they see real differences of scale for the first time. This comparison of the sizes of planets and stars stretches our minds a little.
One very useful theme that has been too little explored by photographers is the unexpected encounter between subjects of very different sizes. A tiny boat next to a cruise ship lets us know how big the cruise ship is. A newborn baby’s hand grasping the father’s thumb lets us know how tiny the baby is. And this picture by Philipp Klinger of ant-sized tourists at Niagara Falls shows the true scale of the subjects.
However, it is easy for a picture to look contrived when the photographer intentionally adds two subjects together with the purpose of illustrating size contrast. This shot of the world’s tallest and shortest men, while interesting, looks contrived in a way that the picture at Niagara Falls does not. It is obvious why the two men were juxtaposed together, and, in a sense, the viewer’s work has been done for him. The viewer has not had to work to find something in the picture, and there is no delayed surprise awaiting the viewer who looks longer.
Different size subjects that the photographer has found, rather than added together purposely, seem to look more natural and less invented. Harold Wimberly has taken a panorama photo of Monument Valley in Utah, and viewers can look at the photo for quite a while before spotting a horse in the picture. The horse looks chipmunk-size, while the “monuments” look enormous. This contrast in scale is an unexpected surprise awaiting the viewer who lingers over the photo (currently viewable at Thompson Photo Products in Knoxville).
A person can look at the picture of the chair accompanying this article and wonder for just a second whether the people are Lilliputian or the chair was made for Paul Bunyan. There is some ambiguity that delays the viewer for a moment and provides a surprise. In the picture of the construction site, the water cooler is spotted right away, so there is no ambiguity. Yet there is still surprise due to the difference in scale between the water cooler and the auger bits.