I need to take pictures of multiple trees that were planted a year earlier in some far away terrain. The pictures should give clear impression of how large each tree is. So I guess I should put some object of known size next to a tree before taking a picture. Trees are about one foot high.

What object do I use? I thought of a plastic bottle with inch point drawn with a permanent marker. That works - the bottle is easy to carry (which is good when going to a far away terrain) and stands stably without being inserted into ground (a ruler lacks this advantage). Yet it looks kind of uncool - some dull plastic bottle and it's not very clear that those are inch points so it isn't very illustrative.

What other mobile object could be used for this scenario?

  • 1
    I think it depends on what you are trying to accomplish, is this a scientific project or an artistic one? Oct 3 '13 at 12:26
  • @PaulCezanne: I'd say it's mostly atristic - noone needs 1/16 inch precision.
    – sharptooth
    Oct 3 '13 at 12:39
  • Coke cans are often used as they're ll a standard size and available pretty much anywhere in the world!
    – Matt Grum
    Oct 16 '13 at 10:45

Archaeologists and Geologist use standardized photo scales that are place in the photo to give a sense of scale, and sometimes even color cast, to the object they are photographing. This set, made for foresters, includes seven scales that range in size from 1 meter down to 3 cm. Surveyers also have expensive scales with spikes on one end to allow them to be driven into the ground, but they are precisely marked and expensive. You don't need anything near that comprehensive for trees only 1 foot high. You could attach a spike, such as a tent stake, to a yardstick made out of weather resistant materials and drive it into the soil near the trees. Add some guy wires held down by smaller spikes if needed and it should last for several years. This aluminum yardstick has two convenient holes to attach your spike and guy wires. You could even paint alternating units (such as inches, or 5cm marks) in contrasting dark and light colors.

As Matt Grum pointed out in a comment to the question, if you just want to place something in the scene that is universally recognized as being a certain size a 12 oz. Coke can is near universal pretty much anywhere in the world.


Literally just about anything could be used. I've personally used my foot or my phone for a sense of scale in a pinch. Anything of known dimensions works fine.


I would say like Michael suggested, buy a yardstick and attach it to a spike. I'd just get one of the small wooden spikes like you drive in the ground that you can buy in a small bundle at home depot or lowes, attach the yardstick 6 or 8 inches above tip of the point you drive in the ground, then take it and a hammer with you. Drive the spike with the yardstick attached to it into the ground until the end of the yardstick is right at ground level. Then take your picture and pull it back out and go do the next. You may not even need a hammer depending on the ground if the weight of carrying a small hammer with you is a problem. You may be able to just push the steak in with your body weight. I think a plastic bottle with marker lines on it would look very unprofessional.


Toy soldiers, toy cars, anything that's a miniature of something large.

Some of these items are of consistent, well-known sizes - ordinary toy soldiers are 50 - 60 mm tall, vehicles or other props from an HO-scale model railway are exactly 87.1 times smaller than their real counterparts, etc. Therefore, they are useful as size references.

At the same time, although there is no danger of their being confused with full-sized objects, they are clearly depicting full-sized objects. Putting these tiny versions of everyday large objects alongside tiny trees creates a visual joke.

  • All of these can have a wide range of sizes. I don't want to give a wrong impression, I want realistic perception of trees size.
    – sharptooth
    Oct 16 '13 at 6:41
  • True, you'd want to use something whose size was immediately known to the viewer. Little green army men might be a better choice than a model car, for example, because model cars do vary in size a lot. Oct 16 '13 at 9:59
  • I'd say it's unclear what size a toy soldier is unless you've seen a lot of them. I guess most women will not immediately recognize the scale.
    – sharptooth
    Oct 16 '13 at 10:01

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