Playing With Scale

Jeff Alu, “Sphere”, El Mirage Dry Lake, 2009


One of my favorite techniques in photography is to play with scale. Or more specifically, making it difficult to tell how big or small something is. I want the viewer to look at a photo, do a double-take, and wonder, “Just what the heck IS that?” They’ll accept certain aspects of it, but something will seem “off” about it. Why do I want them to react this way? It has to do with an internal dialogue that I have going on in my head almost constantly having to do with the fact that everything deserves to have a chance to be looked at. Why can’t I just leave these objects at their regular scale? Well, sometimes in order to appreciate something that might be overlooked I think you need to present it from a slightly different perspective than for which reality allows!

In adding a tilt-shift focus in many images, which I create in Photoshop. I’m using it differently than usual, however. In most cases with tilt-shift you see something huge being turned into something much smaller, such as a cityscape being turned into what looks like a hand-made model. In my case I’m doing just the opposite: making smaller objects appear to be larger. Some examples can be found below.




Jeff Alu, “Hill”, Salton Sea, 2008

Here we have something that appears to be a mountain but which is only about 8 feet high. It is a mud volcano found at the Salton Sea. These small volcanoes spurt mud at constant time intervals. There are about 20 of them in the field and each one spurts mud at a different rate.




Jeff Alu, “Structure”, Salton Sea, 2006

I came across this structure at the Salton Sea while hiking around. To this day I have no idea what it is. Was it something new that was being constructed or something old that was decaying?  It’s about 30 feet long.  The pieces of wood are each about two feet high.  I really need to revisit the area to see if it’s still there!




Jeff Alu, “Wave”, Laguna Beach, 2012

This wave is only about six inches high, but placing my camera down very low on the surface of the water made it appear to be much larger. The wave was about two feet away from the camera in this shot.  It was not a waterproof camera, so I had to lift it up at the very last minute.



Jeff Alu, “Relic”, Salton Sea, 2010

This appears to be an organic creature of some kind. It is actually a decomposing waste barrel. This was found about 50 feet from the mud volcanoes.  The barrel itself had totally disintegrated, but the metal rings on the top and bottom of the barrel were still in tact, although totally warped out of shape.




Jeff Alu, “DTLA”, Shot from Echo Mountain, 2011

This shot of downtown Los Angeles was taken from Echo Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains. I love the way downtown Los Angeles is represented by something incredibly small, a few rectangular blocks at the bottom of the image.  It was a very noisy image to begin with, as it was a very smoggy day, and blurring the image further sank the buildings into the murkiness.




Jeff Alu, “Pyramids”, Laguna Beach, 2010

On the day before a number of the mobile homes along the beach in Laguna Beach were going to be removed forever, I took a walk in the area.  I came across these cement structures sticking out of the sane.  They resembled large pyramids, especially with the long shadows, but are actually only about three feet long.




Jeff Alu, “Tree”, Coyote Dry Lake, 2007

I was the cinematographer on an independent movie and one of our destinations was Coyote Dry Lake in the California desert.  We traveled the lake bed in search of large, natural “pits” that can be found in the surface.  Near one of those pits I found this small “tree”, about 8 inches high.  I took a shot right from the ground.  Many of these small bushes can be found, but this one had a particularly tree-like appearance.




Jeff Alu, “Canyon”, Irvine, CA, 2014

Here is what appears to be a huge Canyon but is actually only a trench about 5 feet high. I crawled down inside with my camera. I first threw some dust in the air to give it more atmosphere which gave it a depth cue and made it appear even larger.




Jeff Alu, “Pieces”, Construction Site, Riverside, CA, 2000

In my first year of digital photography, I visited many construction sites.  I found the shapes fascinating, though I often had to find ways to sneak in.  They were usually abandoned on the weekends.  In this case I came across two small pieces of wood on cement right after it had rained.  Though it’s obvious to me that these are two small pieces of wood, almost everyone who saw this thought that I must have shot it from a plane.





Jeff Alu, “Dust Devil”, El Mirage Dry Lake, 2009

This dust devil was shot at El Mirage Dry Lake in California.  I’ve been chasing dust devils for years, as they are so often very similar to tornadoes in structure but are of course much safer.  In this case I darkened the shot quite a bit to take out the foreground details, which would give clues as to the actual size of the dust devil.  With those details missing, the size becomes questionable.





Jeff Alu, “Flow”, Near Trona, CA, 2012

There is a huge field of mud flows near Trona Pinnacles in California.  I took a drive out there but on the day of my trip I was just getting over a cold and had quite a headache.  I didn’t stay for very long but captured about 50 shots of the mud flows of which this was my favorite.  Some very subtle tilt-shift focus warped the scale enough to make it appear the it might have been shot from a plane.



Jeff Alu, “Snowcapped Mountain”, Fish Creek, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, 2000

I came across an outcropping of red sandstone in Fish Creek at Anza Borrego Desert State Park.   Processing it in black and white gave it the appearance of a mountain top covered with snow.  I love the way that one formation in nature imitates another in this case!


Jeff out.




3 thoughts on “Playing With Scale

Add yours

  1. Hello Jeff,

    As a member of the Photo Exchange for twenty-something years I have enjoyed the Photo Exchange blog as a resource for upcoming shows (primarily in the Los Angeles area), articles relating to and about photography events and information about exhibits of current members and non-members. Examples are: 2015 LA Art Book Fair at the MoCA, January 27, 2015; Photo LA & Classic Photographs LA last weekend January 22, 2015; Three Great Photo/Art Shows In LA Next Week, January 9, 2015; Jubilee PHOTO ANNUAL AWARDS 2015 is OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS, January 3, 2015.

    Since you took over as Guest curator for the month of February, we have seen no postings about upcoming exhibits, awards shows, or anything related to photography other than your well written writings (six thus far this month) about your vision, your thoughts, your pictures and philosophies on photography. I, and others I have spoken with, would appreciate you transitioning the Photo Exchange blog back to it’s original format to include opinions and images of other photographers, museum directors, art critics, etc., other than yourself. Your writings and images are interesting but more diversity on the blog would be welcome.

    Jim Koch

    1. Hi Jim, I see what you’re saying here, but as far as I know, I’m not the only one with privileges to post to the blog here. Certainly those who post those kinds of informative postings can continue to do that. As guest curator, I’m trying to offer my perspective on photography-related subjects as I see them and as best that I can. If my only job here is to copy onto this blog what can easily be found elsewhere on the web (upcoming exhibitions, art shows, etc.,) then I certainly wouldn’t have considered doing this at all. I think the best bet would be to have someone else join me for the month of February in posting that kind of information, as I certainly do understand the importance of it!


  2. Hi Jim,

    As I discussed at the recent meeting, I have asked Jeff to create another dimension of photographic dialog as the guest curator to this blog. He is right on with what we had discussed and my intent for this blog. There are plenty of other exhibition postings, but we need to step beyond the cut and paste articles and similar to the intent of the PhotoExchange, have an exchange of ideas and original thoughts about photography.

    Likewise, I am putting out invitations to other curators to provide a similar photographic and artistic voice as Jeff’s. It should keep this blog interesting, eh?

    Concurrently I am still monitoring what is happening locally and will add this content to the blog as necessary.

    Btw Jim, if you would like to become a contributor to the blog to post exhibitions and local photographic news, please let me know and I can set you up to write for the blog. The more the merrier!

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