Long Lens Landscapes
When one hears the term 'landscape photography', one immediately begins to conjure up mental images of grand, sweeping vistas. The kind of views that seem to distort scale itself and challenge the observer's perspective of their significance in the universe. The truth is, however, that this idea of 'landscape photography' is particularly difficult to execute. Composing an image that adequately captures the scale of a scene and at the same time, remains visually compelling once shrunk down in size to match that of a computer screen, or at best an A0 print, is challenging. Like many photographers, my solutions to the problem include reaching for my widest lens, closing up the aperture ring, focusing to infinity and hoping for the best. Alternatively, I call on the panorama; the overused bit of computer aided wizardry that lets you outdo the limitations of your optic.
But there are two significant drawbacks to this whole concept of what 'landscape photography' is. First, I can count on one hand the number of times that using a wide angle lens has returned a photograph of any note and second, sweeping vistas are nowhere near as abundant as one might think.
Recently, I stumbled across British landscape photographer Thomas Heaton's Youtube channel. It was difficult not to notice just how frequently he uses the word 'composition' – if you watch a few of his videos, you'll understand – but more importantly, his 70-200mm lens. Thomas calls the landscape images produced by such long focal lengths 'intimate landscapes' and the pictures are compelling. Thomas's concept of using long lenses to shoot landscapes is not unique, however. It is consistent with the approach promoted by Justin Reznick, an equally renowned landscape photographer living in the United States. One of Justin's 'go to' landscape lenses is a 70-300mm, a counterintuitive focal length by most people's standards.
I'm not suggesting that capturing an 'intimate landscape' is easier than obtaining one of the wide-angled variety
Now I'm not suggesting that capturing an 'intimate landscape' is easier than obtaining one of the wide-angled variety, but it is much simpler to find a sliver of land with attributes that make it eye-catching when compared to finding a whole panorama with similar characteristics. Long lenses give one the ability to take only slices out of a scene and thus has a significant impact on the probability of finding a 'composition'. The increase in probability, in turn, has a positive bearing on the likelihood of finding scenes within the vicinity of home, and this for me is the single most attractive benefit.
With a long lens, I don't have to wait for my next photographic expedition to get out. Any free time will do, and the image shown at the top of this page is the product of my first ever attempt at a local landscape photograph. It was taken at 1/80 sec, f/11, ISO100 but most importantly, at a focal length of 127mm. It's a great example of the power of the long lens for this scene is almost completely surrounded by houses.