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Long Range Landscapes

Dustin Abbott

September 3rd, 2015

Why You Should Bring Your Telephoto Lens when you Shoot Landscapes

This article was originally written for Alien Skin Software – check out the original on their blog here:

When most people think about shooting landscapes, they immediately think, “wide angle”. It seems natural that the “big picture” requires as wide a view as possible. But today’s article speaks to why you should bring your favorite telephoto along the next time you go to shoot landscapes.

I know, I know. This is a software blog. But having great software to tone and process your images is kind of pointless if you don’t have some great images to start with. Learning good photography technique is going to help you bring your best into Exposure (get 10% by using my name – “dustinabbott”) to ramp up through processing.

Some of the best shots of the day are missed because photographers aren’t using the right tools for the job. There are times when a wide angle lens is the right tool for the job, but often it isn’t, and here’s why. Take a look at these two photos: which one shows off the beauty of the scene more?

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© 2014 Thousand Word Images by Dustin Abbott There was a brief window a few days ago at dawn when the light was stunningly good. The sun was risinig underneath a layer of cloud cover, and you can see the ripples of illumination in the sky. For a few minutes the light was very direction, skimming the tops of the trees and setting them ablaze. This road leads right down to the Ottawa River, and the ridge and treeline in the distance is the province of Quebec beyond. I have purposefully kept this one a hair underexposed as I feel it adds more punch to the color palette. Best view will be on black. Enjoy! Technical information Canon EOS 6D, Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM. Processed in Adobe Lightroom 5, Photoshop CC, and Alien Skin Exposure 6 Want to know more about me or make contact? Take a look at my website and find a lot of ways to connect and view my work.

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Wide angle lens are valued by people who shoot architectural images because they create the illusion of space. A wide angle lens can make that tiny bathroom look a lot bigger! We’ve all checked into a hotel room or condo that looked a LOT bigger in the photos. Wide angle lens push things away and makes elements in the photo seem further apart. This effect becomes increasingly extreme as the lens focal length becomes wider.

A telephoto lens does the opposite. It compresses a scene and can make distant elements seem closer. Resort advertisers often use this technique to make their properties seem closer to the beach than what they really are. Perhaps you’ve also had the misfortune to arrive at your “waterfront destination” (in pictures) that is, in reality, a mile away from the water. Once again this effect becomes increasingly extreme as the focal length becomes longer.

The human eye’s “focal length” roughly corresponds to about 50mm, which is why a 50mm lens is often referred to as a “normal” lens. Our perception of space and depth will roughly equal what a 50mm lens on a full frame (35mm) camera would report. As you move away from that “normal” range in either direction either more or less space will be “created” by the focal length of choice.

Wide angle lenses work well in more intimate venues. Really wide focal lengths work best when you want to emphasize something in the foreground that you are almost on top of. It “stretches” the scene, emphasizing the foreground, and pushes the background further away. When used properly it will create amazing images. Here’s one of my favorite images I took using this technique and a 14mm lens.

© 2015 Thousand Word Images by Dustin Abbott Here is another image that I've run through Lightroom 6/CC's new HDR mode. I've combined three exposures to get a big dynamic range here, and then did almost all of the processing in Lightroom. I love the final look here, that has a great, rich mood and color palette. I recorded a quick video tutorial that details the process as well as what I consider a killer feature of that software. You can view it here: http://bit.ly/1II0Xlg Technical Information: Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Processed in Adobe Lightroom CC, Adobe Photoshop CC, Alien Skin Exposure 7 (use code "dustinabbott" to get a 10% discount) Want to know more about me or make contact? Take a look at my website and find a lot of ways to connect and view my work.

That red sign that catches your eye in the middle of the frame was only really about 25 feet from the camera…but it seems really distant because of the wide angle effect. In this venue the technique works great…I needed the space.

But this isn’t going to work nearly as well when you have a truly epic scene in front of you. Take, for example, this photo of the San Francisco Peaks in the high desert of Arizona. I got up early to some really great, warm light. In the distance wind was whipping across the snowcapped peaks of the mountain range; a great contrast to the warm light on the dried grasses of the foreground. I had one of the best wide angle lenses in the world with me, the Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/15mm. This amazing prime lens is very expensive (about $3000) for a reason; it has amazing resolution, contrast, and color.

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The wide focal length worked great for emphasizing rocks in the foreground in this shot, but the wide focal length also meant that the even cooler snowcapped mountain range seemed a long way away. Fortunately I also had my favorite telephoto lens for travel along with me, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM. I love this lens because it has a great build, amazing optics, and also is small enough to travel very easily when retracted. It was very easy to pull in those distant details by using a telephoto lens instead. This shot at 124mm shows off the very nice three distinct layers of the scene (foreground grasses, forest middle layer, and the distant mountains).

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But what if I wanted to include more details, a wider scene? I simply shot three frames to combine into a panorama.

© 2015 Thousand Word Images by Dustin Abbott This beautiful image is more than a little deceiving. I awoke to the beautiful Arizona light in the high plains this particular morning, and headed outside to shoot. The distant San Francisco peaks of Flagstaff were perfectly framed, and I loved the look of the high plains that is so different than the country around where I live. The light was so warm, but trust me, that light was lying! The thin mountain air (this was some 7000 feet up or so) was bitterly cold as the wind blew across the open spaces. The irony of the light is that the way things look out a window aren't always the way they are in reality. Technical Information: Canon EOS 6D, Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, Processed in Adobe Lightroom 5, Adobe Photoshop CC, Alien Skin Exposure 7 (use code "dustinabbott" to get a 10% discount) Want to know more about me or make contact? Take a look at my website and find a lot of ways to connect and view my work.

I got the same wide angle look, but the difference is that I was able to still have the “compressed” telephoto look that allowed the space between the elements (and the space from the viewer to the main subject) to be diminished.

I used a similar technique later in the day at the Grand Canyon, except this I shot 4 portrait oriented shots that allowed me to create a panorama with roughly the normal dimensions of a single frame but with the epic space of the Grand Canyon compressed closer to allow the viewer to see more of its detail. (By the way, try some of the “Slide” presets in Exposure to really pull out the colors in dynamic landscape scenes.)

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Deep shadows were hiding a lot of the foreground details during the time that I was at the Canyon, so a wide angle lens didn’t work as well. But even if the light was perfect, the telephoto lens would have worked better simply because of the immense scale of the Grand Canyon. You don’t need the illusion of MORE space shooting there; you need less. The same is often true in less “grand” locations. And sometimes, like those resort marketers, it is desirable to “pull” distant attractions closer. I did that with the distant U.S. Capital building when I framed it under this tree that was, in reality, a long distance from the building.

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This was shot at about 150mm.

The next time you go out to shoot landscape images, be sure to bring your favorite telephoto along. You may just take your best landscape image of the day with it…and better images make for better processing when you throw that file into Exposure!

Gear Used:

Canon EOS 6D DSLR Camera (Body Only)
EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens
Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens for Canon EF Mount
Rokinon 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens For Canon
Adobe Lightroom CC Software for Mac and Windows (Boxed Version)
Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud 1-Year Subscription
Alien Skin Exposure 7 (Use Code “dustinabbott” to get 10% anything and everything)
Rokinon 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens For Canon
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4 thoughts on “Long Range Landscapes

  1. Dan Dill says:

    Combining telephoto compression with panoramic view is a neat idea. Thanks very much.

  2. Wahab Khan says:

    Very nice article indeed. To summarize…always have the widest possible lens and a telephoto lens, whenever you go for landscape shooting. I am also trying to shoot all my images in both orientations. One never knows how the images will turn out until one comes back home and sees them on the computer screen.

  3. Dustin Abbott says:

    Wahab – I think you’ve hit the high points!

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