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This photo -- of a woman standing outside General Meade's headquarters at Gettysburg National Military Park -- is a prime example of "Red Shirt School" photography from National Geographic's early days. (Photograph by Clifton R. Adams, National Geographic)
TravelTraveler Magazine

Do People Belong in Landscape Photography?

Reader question: Is it true that a great landscape image will almost always be better if there’s a human presence in it?

My answer: It depends on the intended use of the picture.

In general I would say that landscape pictures meant for magazines usually benefit from the presence of human figures because they lend a sense of scale to the scene. On the other hand, landscape pictures used in calendars almost never include humans.

Including the color red can also increase the visual impact of a figure in a landscape. In fact, the effect is so strong that it led to what some people call the “Red Shirt School of Photography.”

This term was usually used in reference to photography in National Geographic Magazine. From the beginning of color photography until the 1960s, photographers at National Geographic and other magazines were accused of traveling with red props — shirts, umbrellas, you name it — in their trunks to add a little extra color to their photos.

I must tell you that the Red Shirt School is now used as a deprecating label because those same colorful photos often had a cheesy, posed look.

Dan Westergren is director of photography for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow him on Twitter @dwestergren and on Instagram @danwestergren.

Do you have something you want to ask Dan about travel photography? He’ll be answering reader questions periodically on the blog, so be sure to leave a comment.