The Wide-angle Lens in Landscape Photography: Part I   10 comments

An arm of Utah's Great Salt Lake in dawn light.

A new image: one arm of Utah’s Great Salt Lake in dawn light.  Shot at 16 mm.

This is a two-parter, the second coming next Friday.  This first part will lay out some basic knowledge, so if you’re beyond a novice photographer you might want to just enjoy the photos and be sure to catch next week’s post.  I’ve been traveling through the northern Great Basin, and some of these images are from the last couple days.  By clicking on these you’ll go to the main part of my webpage, where the images will be uploaded soon.  Please contact me if you are interested in one right now.  Other images are older and may have appeared in past posts.  These are available right now on the website by clicking on the image.

Mount Hood and its enveloping forest are highlighted in this image shot at 28 mm.  Most photographers would zoom in on the mountain to make it bigger, but I wanted to put equal emphasis on the surrounding forest.

Mount Hood and its enveloping forest are highlighted in this image shot at 28 mm. Most photographers would zoom in on the mountain to make it bigger, but I wanted equal emphasis on the surrounding forest.

First off, the wide angle lens is undoubtedly a must-have if you want to do landscape photography.  I don’t know anybody who is serious about landscapes who doesn’t have one.  The good news about that is if you’re starting out and don’t have a DSLR yet, most consumer cameras with a built-in zoom lens go to fairly wide angles.

So let’s back up.  What is a wide-angle lens?  Since It has to do with focal length, let’s see what that is first.  I’m sorry if this is too basic for some of you by the way, but I’m assuming some will benefit from this stuff.  Technically, focal length is the distance the light rays travel from the lens to where they’re focused to a point (yielding a sharp image on the sensor/film just beyond that point).  By the way, was this not the most fun topic in physics class?  Optics rocks!

But for photographers, all you need to know is that the longer the focal length, the more magnified the subjects in your frame will be, and the narrower your field of view.  For short focal lengths, you get less magnification and wider angles of view.

Falls Creek Falls in Washington's Cascades is  in flood here, so I got as close as I could to it and shot at 16 mm.

Falls Creek Falls in Washington’s Cascades is in flood here, so I got as close as I could to it and shot at 16 mm.

A new image from the Alvord Desert of eastern Oregon.   I found this group of wind-riders camped at the edge of the playa.  Shot at 24 mm. from a point mere inches from the ground.

New image from the Alvord Desert of eastern Oregon. I found this group of wind-riders camped at the edge of the playa.  They ride lightweight and aerodynamic carts equipped with sails, shooting across the normally windy playa at high speeds.  Shot at 24 mm. from a point mere inches from the ground.

 

So we finally come to the definition of a wide-angle lens, yay!   It’s a lens for which the magnification of objects is small and the field of view large or wide.

What are the actual focal length values we work with?  It gets a little complicated here because of different sensor (and film) sizes in different cameras.  If you have a full-frame DSLR (or an old SLR film camera), you’re in luck.  Yours are the standard focal lengths, what we call the 35 mm. efl (equivalent focal length).  Think of the largest rectangle that will fit in the circular field your camera sees, and you have a great idea of what a full-frame sensor is.

A pond reflects Mount Rainier in Washington, shot at 24 mm.

A pond reflects Mount Rainier in Washington, shot at 24 mm.

If you have a camera with a smaller sensor, what’s called a crop-frame, your focal lengths are correspondingly shorter.  The corners of your rectangle are inside the circle that your camera sees.  In order for the two groups of folks to speak to each other, we convert everything to full-frame focal length.  To convert from cameras with smaller sensors, you multiply your focal length by some factor that depends on your camera brand.  This is normally about 1.4 – 2 times, but usually pretty close to 1.5.

This is one of the most important traditional food and medicinal plants for American Indians of the Columbia Basin in the Pacific Northwest, lomatium (or biscuit root).  Shot at 16 mm. with the Columbia River beyond.

This is one of the most important traditional food and medicinal plants for American Indians of the Columbia Basin in the Pacific Northwest, lomatium (or biscuit root). Shot at 16 mm. with the Columbia River beyond.

Please realize that if you’re shooting with a crop-frame camera, you are able to get excellent photos.  You just get used to thinking in terms of the (shorter) focal lengths you work with.  You certainly don’t go around multiplying every time you take a picture!  I nearly always shoot landscapes with a full-frame camera, and encourage anyone serious about landscape photography to save up for one.  But I’m certainly no full-frame snob.  I have a point and shoot with a tiny sensor plus a crop-frame DSLR with a crop factor of 1.6.  I don’t use them as much as I used to, but they definitely have their strengths.

A small pool on the floor of the Alvord Desert.  A new image shot at 26 mm. with my camera placed a couple inches from the water's surface.

A new image, a small pool on the floor of the Alvord Desert of Eastern Oregon.  Shot at 26 mm. with my camera placed a few inches from the water’s surface.

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10 responses to “The Wide-angle Lens in Landscape Photography: Part I

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  1. Pingback: Friday Foto Talk: The Wide-angle Lens, Part II | MJF Images

  2. Very nice picture… I like that!!! thank’s

  3. Beautiful photos and helpful information. I have just bought a canon 650D which I assume is full-frame. I also am particularly drawn to landscape photography. I look forward to part 2 of your article. Thank you so much for such illuminating articles. Blessings.

    Isabella Rose Photography
    • Thanks Isabella! I would check the owner’s manual. I’m not sure whether that one is crop frame or full frame. Regardless of which it is, you’ll get great landscape photos I’m sure!

  4. fantastic work…

  5. simply beautiful landscape photos….

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