Long Distance Landscape
by Les Voorhis
When thinking of great landscape photography, ones thoughts instantly
turn to the great masters like, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston or
David Muench. These great photographers produced many icons of
today's landscape imagery. Using 4x5 view cameras, they made the
wide-angle grand landscape the stereotype for landscape photography.
Because of that stereotype, many people believe that to be a
landscape photograph the scene must include as wide a view as
possible. Typically set off by a strong prominent foreground leading
to a complimenting background. To be effective, these types of
images work the best and have the strongest impact by using a
wide-angle (wider than a "normal" 50mm in 35mm cameras)
lens and a small aperture for maximum depth of field.
While such images are striking and I take many of them each year,
I have found that an increasing number of my landscapes are taken
with a short to long telephoto lens (70-400mm) and I am "optically
extracting" what I think is the most important part of the
scene. For many people this is not a normal way of viewing a landscape
and therefore the images can be more intriguing and often more
studied than a wide-angle image.
Not every scene lends itself well to "optical extraction"
and proper lighting becomes even more important than when making
a wide-angle image, as you don't have the complexity of the scene
to hold your viewer's attention. I often find myself waiting longer
for the right light on a scene that I want to extract than I do
for a traditional landscape image. Where I live in Colorado, the
majestic mountains lend themselves well to the optical extraction
technique. Sunset light splashing against the face of the Maroon
Bells in Western Colorado is an incredible experience and one
that I feel is better captured with a tight close-up than a smaller,
Using lenses in the 70-200mm range you are often able to encompass
an entire mountain and still effectively eliminate the foreground.
Also, since you are a greater distance from your subject, less
depth of field is required to hold sharpness throughout the picture.
Consequently, you are able to shoot at a lens' "sweet spot".
This is the point on most lenses, one to two stops down from wide
open, where the lens exhibits maximum sharpness. Typically this
is around f/5.6 to f/11. Stopping down further from f/11 with
all but the higher end expensive lenses will typically show some
image degradation, especially at the edges. Using the "sweet
spot" allows users without the expensive professional lenses
to make incredible sharp photographs that are capable of exceptional
Another advantage to using a telephoto lens for landscapes is
the ability to compress the scene and make objects in the background
appear much closer to the foreground than they actually are. This
optical juxtaposition can be quite pleasing in the right situation
and allow you to show the viewer a scene that cannot be seen with
the naked eye. In this case since you have a strong foreground
element, more depth of field is required to show both foreground
and background in sharp focus. Apertures in the f/16 range and
smaller are typically required. The longer the telephoto lens
you are using, the smaller the aperture needs to be to hold the
sharpness. Following good camera techniques such as using a tripod,
a fast enough shutter speed if hand held, or even locking the
mirror up becomes an absolute necessity.
Stepping outside of the "stereotypical landscape" box
increases your photographic vision and allows you to make images
that can be had in no other way. So the next time you find yourself
wanting to make a landscape photograph, pack up that wide-angle
lens take out the telephoto and make some long distance landscapes.
About the Author:
Les is a professional nature/wildlife photographer based in Lakewood,
CO. An avid outdoorsman, Les has photographed our nation's back
roads extensively with heavy concentration in the Rocky Mountain
west. He often heads off the beaten path to areas rarely traveled
by others. His affinity for all things wild and unspoiled has
allowed him to find and capture magnificent images on film. From
the wilds of Alaska to the busy roadways of Rocky Mountain National
Park, he has successfully photographed some of the United States'
most prolific and sometimes elusive wildlife. Elk, Mule Deer,
Bald Eagles, and Mountain Goats are favorite subjects. In the
silence of the predawn hours, he forms a magical unspoken bond
with his subject. That magic is then transferred to film. His
exceptional eye for dramatic light is apparent from his majestic
mountain scenes to his delicately detailed macro work. Les offers
photography seminars in the Denver area. He is actively shooting
to add to his extensive stock photography file. Les' images can
be seen regularly in national and regional publications including
Rocky Mountain Game and Fish and Colorado Outdoors, Bugle Magazine
and American Hunter. A selection of his fine art prints is currently
being showcased in Colorado galleries and gift shops.
You can see more of Les's work at the following
- Les Voorhis