When Size Matters


One of the fun things about blogging is never knowing where a post will lead. We call it the “box-of-chocolates effect.”

On the Ostia Antica mosaic post from earlier this week, many people commented that the photo with the coin included for scale helped them better understand the amount of work involved in creating mosaics.

Mosaic Coin for Scale

Later, I received an email from Lawrence Payne in the UK, who organizes and teaches workshops for the construction of Roman mosaics. He was interested in, and asked permission to use the mosaic/coin photo on his blog. In his words, the photo “shows just how deep some of these tesserae were,” and it gave him an idea for a whole new area for research. Needless to say, I’m totally chuffed that one of my posts could be so useful.

This got me to thinking about the photographic scale technique, and I remembered another photo I’d taken: a big, honkin’ Canadian bug. A few years ago, Terri and I were tent camping in the northeastern US, and slipped across the border into Ontario. We were on the north shore of Lake Erie, and were swarmed by millions – and I mean millions, of these unknown bugs.

Canadian bug

I could never ID these aerial annoyances, so recently, I contacted our blogging buddies and go-to peeps for all things Canadian: Sue and Dave over at the excellent Travel Tales of Life. They put the question out on the Canuck telegraph, and their Aunt identified it as a mayfly. We not only got our answer, but in the process, Sue’s Aunt accidentally became a follower of our blog. We scored on that one all around.

And then there was the travel zoom camera post, which is one of our top 5 most popular. The house key, like the camera, is something that fits in one’s pocket.

Camera w key

Scale gives the person looking at your photograph a frame of reference. A coin, key, car, person, or any other well known object will work. Now go forth and take some great photographs with scale – because size matters.

Happy Blogging,

P.S. If you’re interested in mosaics and their construction, check out Lawrence’s website. There’s some pretty cool stuff here.

Mt Lycabetus from Parthenon

Photo credit:
1. Jpatokal via Wikimedia Commons

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

37 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the shout out James. Just to reassure anyone who I might have convinced to visit Alberta, these plague like insects are found in Eastern Canada, nowhere near us. 🙂 Great post!

      1. Haha no worries at all James. As you may know there is a bit of rivalry in Canada between Alberta and Ontario so just wanted to get my plug in for the home province. 🙂
        Now I really like this idea of giving objects perspective in size. Any suggestions for taking photos to illustrate how steep a cycling road is? After gasping my way up some Alp or other I am always disappointed that the photo doesn’t do the incline justice. Thoughts?

  2. What a good idea about the key! I always have one or more in my purse, I should really start thinking about using it when taking photos for scale. Thanks for the idea!

    1. Thanks Jennifer. It could also become a fun challenge. Rummaging through your purse to find something that everyone can relate to: postage stamps, nail clippers, lip gloss, you name it. ~James

  3. I always try to keep something with me to show scale, unfortunately, I don’t always remember to use it. Describing something as the size of…. doesn’t come close to showing the two side by side. Great post and congrats on how far reaching the mosaic was.

    1. Thanks Laura. I was reading a photo tips article, and the author discussed how much more interesting landscape shots are with people in them for scale. I thought that was pretty funny since I always work hard to cut people out of my landscape shots. ~James

      1. I do too, mostly because I don’t want to have to deal with model releases and such. But it is true a lot of landscapes are better with people in them for context.

  4. Such an interesting post. I’ve seen mosaics in many places and didn’t ever realize they were so deep. Guess that’s part of the reason they are still around. Thanks, as always, for sharing your insights.

    1. Thanks Suzanne. And you’re exactly right, that is one of the reasons that they’re still around. Also, many of the large stone buildings in Roman ruins have been cannibalized for building materials to be used elsewhere. I guess that the mosaic tiles are too small to be of any use (or are more trouble than they’re worth), so they aren’t disturbed. ~James

  5. I loved all the pictures, but especially the hippos. I had the pleasure of seeing many hippos on safari in Tanzania, but never a baby. Who doesn’t love a baby?!

    1. You’re right Joanne. Babies of any sort are attention getters. Baby elephants are right up there as well. We saw very young elephants in Kenya, but not too clearly because the adult females had them in a protective circle; which was pretty cool to see as well. ~James

      1. I was fortunate enough to see baby elephants too. You’re right about Mommy elephants. They aren’t very good about photo ops and we had to exit pretty quickly when she decided she didn’t like the look of us. It looked like she was seriously considering charging our jeep.

  6. Who says blogging isn’t a useful occupation, James? 🙂 I love mosaics. I remember skim reading the post because I had very little time, but I’ll go back for a proper look and check out Lawrence’s site too.

    1. Thanks Jo. I really do enjoy making connections with other bloggers, and Ostia Antica is such a cool place, I’m glad to get the word out to other travelers as well. ~James

    1. I don’t think you’re alone there LuAnn. As I said to another commenter: I was reading a photo tips article, and the author discussed how much more interesting landscape shots are with people in them for scale. I thought that was pretty funny since I always work hard to cut people out of my landscape shots. ~James

  7. Isn’t it great how blogging can evolve into unexpected topics, learning experiences, and friendships? It can also offer great perspective – just like these photos.

    I think Big D has told me stories of swarming Mayflies in Wisconsin during his childhood summers there. Now I know what to picture. Yikes!

    1. Anita, connections like the one with a Roman mosaic instructor in the UK certainly are a great reminder of the global reach of a blog. And conversations with interesting people like you are also a very nice side benefit. As to the bug event, I’ve been to the Everglades in August, and on the Nile in flood, and I’ve never seen anything approaching the swarm of bugs we had in Canada. We couldn’t leave fast enough. ~James

  8. I have lugged around the fancy SLR and although they take a great pic, theres nothing better then something that fits nice in the pocket. 20 x Optic zoom is great too. – KC

    1. Thanks for the comment KC, and for dropping by the blog. I’ve had the travel zoom for a while, and absolutely love it. The technology included in such a small camera is amazing, and it’s perfect for busy travelers like you. ~James

    1. Thanks Tricia. From my research, the east side of the Adriatic was “The Riviera” for many wealthy Romans. So I’m sure that there must be some very nice mosaics scattered around. We’ll watch your blog for photos. ~James

      1. James, we’re hoping to make it out to Salona once the weather warms up. (The bura winds have arrived and it’s quite chilly suddenly!) Still, it’s incredible peeking at the mosaic work that’s exposed not far from Split’s peristyle. Now that we’ve seen this side of the Adriatic, I’d be curious to see the other; perhaps a ferry ride to Italy awaits in the future? 🙂

  9. Ah that key and camera! Loved all the photos… I would not have thought of this type of post but it’s a good idea – I want to make a comparison post about hot and cold, but not sure quite how to do it? Like -10 degrees feels like and 7 degrees feels too warm… and 16 degrees a sauna…. any suggestions?

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