In the July 2011 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine Jerry Kobalenko wrote about how he uses himself as a "model" when he needs to add some life or scale to a nature image and he's the only one around. It made me think about how many times I've done the same thing.
I often visit South Dakota's state and national parks at times of the year or day when I'm the only person in the area. Adding a human element can make pictures of these places feel more accessible and inviting. So what's a photographer to do? Find a way!
Sometimes it's simply placing people into the shot like my son Cody and I in Badlands National Park.
At this remote campground between Deerfield Lake and the ghost town of Moon, I "borrowed" some one's camping equipment as props. Yes, someone had left their campsite unattended and I picked up that lantern and sat it back down a few times to get a good shot. Like a good nature shooter, all I took away was photographs.
One autumn evening at Big Sioux Rec Area near Brandon I couldn't find an unsuspecting hiker. So I set up my tripod, tripped the self-timer on the camera and sprinted. I'm very small in the shot, but I think it adds an element that the scene just needed.
Other times the image only needs a part of a human to give it life. Hikers mainly use their feet, so why not show those?
At Newton Hills State Park I needed a car driving through the scene, but none were to be seen. So I stacked a jacket and hat up in my vehicle and parked it where I shouldn't have. Luckily the lack of traffic continued, so I got the shot and no one has recognized that there's actually not a driver behind the wheel of the van.
Lastly, just the suggestion of a human form is sometimes enough to create a nice feel in a scene. A camera on a tripod at Palisades State Park says someone is there enjoying the outdoors.
Don't be afraid to try a bit of self-portraiture next time you are out in the woods!