The Reference shot : remembering scale
Not every shot I take is aimed at being an aesthetic wonder! Reference shots, which are seldom attractive, are hugely important for many reasons, and one is scale.
It is actually very hard to remember the correct size of something after the event. In my mind’s eye at least, my subjects bugjects grow in stature! And I am often surprised when I find a beetle or bug that I have previously photographed, at just how small it actually is! My recollections are tampered with because I am looking at my images at many times magnification.
So I find it really helpful to take a reference shot just to indicate the size of my bugject. A ruler is most accurate, but my phone, hand, sunglasses and toes all make appearances. If my bugject’s patience allows, I try and get them in the reference shot, but sometimes that is impossible, so in amongst my lovely close-up shots of a butterfly, you will find a random, uncomposed shot of the whole plant it was sitting on. With bigger subjects such as birds, I always try and get a shot of the whole tree, preferably with a person under it, so the scale is recorded.
I learned this trick from studying my grandfather’s slides. He was a ‘Gentleman Collector’ and fortunate to be able to indulge in a pastime passed down the ancestral line. As ‘landed gentry’ it was respectable to devote time in naturalist pursuits such as fossil, butterfly and orchid cataloguing, observing and collecting.
Thankfully, rather than killing hordes of animals to display, he used the camera to collect and record the nature around him. Amongst his thousands of his slides and films, there are many of family, but the overwhelming majority of photos portray a passion for wildflowers from the south-west of Western Australia. The slides themselves are not aesthetic wonders, but a determined and loving effort to capture the amazing breadth of variety and detail in his lens’s gaze. What I find most fascinating is that each one has an everyday object, such as a coin, matchbox or match ruler, placed alongside the subject so that the scale can be seen. Without this attention to detail, there really is no way of telling just how tiny these flowers are, unless you look up the size in a reference book!
I blogged earlier in the week about a Giant water bug that I found, and included one of my reference images, which is a more rarely seen beast than the secretive, mud-dwelling creature! But to show how big the subject bugject was, it needed a reference point, so I used a pen. I certainly won’t be using the image for an Art print, but a wonderful reference accessory.