Archive for the ‘wide angle lens’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Very Close Focus in Landscape Photography   2 comments

Lupine in bloom this past week at Rowena Crest in Oregon.  Shot with my 21 mm. Zeiss, a sharp lens but the modestly wide angle limits depth of field.

Lupine in bloom this past week at Rowena Crest in Oregon. Shot with my 21 mm. Zeiss, a sharp lens but the modestly wide angle limits depth of field. 21 mm., 1/13 sec. @ f/13, ISO 100; tripod.

Let’s continue with the focus on landscape photography.  I’m writing this on Saturday, April 16th.  My excuse is April 15th.  ‘Nuff said!  The topic is close focus, which is a challenge when shooting the near to far kind of landscape composition that is so popular today (it really wasn’t in the olden days).

With those very close elements in the foreground, most images call for focus throughout the scene.  As last week’s post indicated, these sorts of near to far compositions can work just as well when shooting intimate landscapes – those confined to smaller areas.  So let’s get into it!

  • CLOSE-FOCUS BENEFITS:  Near to far compositions are the kind that can lend a sense of depth.  Even more reliably they can also is highlight a foreground subject, giving the viewer a good look at it and maybe even “putting them into the scene”.  Why focus on or very nearly on this close subject?  If you’re using a lens with a wide enough angle (less than ~21 mm. full-frame or ~30 mm. crop-frame) you have to focus either right on or a hair beyond your closest element in order for that close subject to be in focus.  And you almost always want it to be in focus.  Generally an image with its closest elements out of focus rarely works.  It can when using those elements to frame the photo, but not very often (see image of tree below).
Rowena Crest, Oregon, sunrise the other morning.  I focused right on the nearest flowers but the wind kept them from being very sharp.  16 mm., 1/20 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Rowena Crest, Oregon, sunrise the other morning. I focused right on the nearest flowers but the wind kept them from being very sharp. 16 mm., 1/20 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200; tripod.

  • THE CHALLENGE OF CLOSE FOCUS:  It’s often difficult to get everything in focus when you have very close elements.  And if your foreground is only a foot or two away, getting a sharp background is going to be especially difficult.  You’ll be forced to either move further away from your close subject, making it smaller and less impactful, or allow the background to be a little or a lot out of focus (deliberately by using a wider aperture).  Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with an out of focus background.  But what if you want everything sharp?  Read on.
Late November ion the Oklahoma prairie.  I wasn't too close to this cottonwood to pose much of a depth of field challenge, but the subject's size helped to create what I wanted.  16 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/8.0, ISO 400, handheld.

Late November ion the Oklahoma prairie. I wasn’t too close to this cottonwood to pose much of a depth of field challenge, but the subject’s size helped to create what I wanted. 16 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/8.0, ISO 400; handheld.

  • DEPTH OF FIELD SOLUTIONS – LENS:  Even at f/22 and at wide angles, most lenses can’t give you sharpness from say, a foot or two on out to 100+ feet.  Most of us use these more common wide-angle zooms that start at ~16 mm.  Despite the fact that they often can focus closer than a foot, for depth of field out to the background they work only up to a point, usually no closer than around three feet (and further if you’re out at 20 mm. or more.

But there are lenses with focal lengths significantly shorter than 16 mm.  On a camera with full-frame sensor equipped with an ultra-wide angle lens like Canon’s newish (and spendy!) 11-24 mm., you can get everything in focus with one shot.  The same goes for fish-eye lenses.

  • MORE LENS OPTIONS:  One type of lens that does a slightly better job at depth of field is the wide-angle with a bulbous front glass element, like a fish-eye lens.   Examples include Nikon’s famous 14-24 mm. f/2.8, the Tokina 16-28 mm. f/2.8, and primes like Canon’s 14 mm. f/2.8L II.

Another option, again an expensive one, is the tilt-shift lens.  Canon’s excellent 17 mm. and 24 mm. tilt-shift lenses can be made (by tilting) to bring everything into acceptable focus.  The 17 mm. has the bulbous front glass as well, so it rocks in this department.  Note a big downside to using lenses with bulbous front glass elements:  you can’t use screw-on filters, at least without an extra kit – sort of a housing that goes around the lens and uses huge filters.  But these can be shockingly expensive.

A very simple shot of wind turbines in the Palouse, Washington.  16 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/13, ISO 400, handheld.

A very simple shot of wind turbines in the Palouse, Washington. 16 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/13, ISO 400; handheld.

  • DEPTH OF FIELD SOLUTIONS – FOCUS STACKING:  In order to get good depth of field front to back when your closest elements are very close, and lacking a specialized lens, one option is to focus stack.  You shoot several exposures of the same exact composition, using a tripod.  Start by focusing at one extreme (the closest element, for e.g.) and work toward the other, focusing on increasingly distant parts of the scene in our example.  Then in Photoshop you stack those images and blend them via masking to get one picture with everything in focus.  By the way, this technique is used in macro photography as well, since macro lenses have very short depths of field.

 

  • FOCUS STACKING CAUTIONS:  Most landscape photographers today focus-stack with nearly every image.  I’m the opposite; I prefer the simplicity of one exposure and don’t like sitting in front of Photoshop for too long.  If my focal length is relatively long then I consider it (image below).  One thing that’s often forgotten in the focus- (and exposure-) stacking frenzy is the fact that when things move in the frame from one exposure to the next, you’ll have a hard time later on the computer matching things up.  It may be impossible to create a natural looking image.  I’m talking things like living subjects, fog, waves and other stuff that’s not all at infinity.  This is a bigger issue with exposure stacking, since then even clouds can present problems.
Pink heather blooms on an alpine hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington.  28 mm., 1/8 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; focus-stacked.

Pink heather blooms on an alpine hillside in Olympic National Park, Washington. 28 mm., 1/8 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; focus-stacked.

  • CLOSE FOCUS FOR INTIMATE LANDSCAPES:   When you’re shooting on a smaller scale, the elements tend to appear more similar in size than when shooting a traditional landscape.  So if you want to highlight a subject by putting it close it may, depending on how intimate (small) your composition is, be necessary to get very close indeed.  Then you’re back to the same problem as mentioned above; even wide-angle lenses don’t like to put everything in focus when set on one or two feet.  It’s surprising how rapidly focus drops off.  Focus-stacking intimate landscapes can be a real pain, since they tend to be composed of a lot of vegetation and other hard-to-mask elements.
Recent image of a barn along Oregon's John Day River.  50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod.

Recent image of a barn along Oregon’s John Day River. 50 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod.

Intimate landscape looking up into a large tropical hardwood: Monte Cristo forest (bosque) in El Salvador.    Note the out-of-focus framing branches at bottom.

Intimate landscape looking up into a large tropical hardwood: Forest (bosque) of Monte Cristo, El Salvador. Note the out-of-focus branches at bottom acting as a partial frame.

  • A FINAL WORD:  Every landscape photographer falls in love at some point with the near to far composition.  I did, and it was all I looked to shoot for a time.  But that phase passed and I realized I would be making a mistake by continuing to stress about finding super-close foregounds.  Sure, pigging out on a particular kind of image is useful to teach you how to shoot it.  But to continue in that manner is to be a one-trick pony.  It’s like going out looking for one specific image and being unwilling to take what is there; it’s a recipe for frequent disappointment.

I observe people doing this almost as often as I see other photographers in the field; for example the other morning.  It tends to produce herd behavior so it’s noticeable.  You will almost always get more good images when you avoid single-mindedness when looking for something to shoot.

As I’ve said before in this blog, variety is the spice of photography as well as life.  Flexibility is key too.  So use the tips found in this post and elsewhere when you’re focusing close.  But save yourself some hassle and shoot plenty with your closest subject far enough away to get everything in focus.  That can be satisfying as well (image below).

Swan River National Wildlife Refuge in western Montana, an image that despite no close subject has been purchased for large canvases.  58 mm., 8 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100

Swan River Wildlife Refuge in western Montana.  Despite no close subject this has been purchased for large canvas prints.  58 mm., 8 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100; tripod.

Advertisements

Friday Foto Talk: The Wide-angle Lens, Part II   9 comments

A wide angle allows you to get close and low to interesting foregrounds, like these dunes near Sossusvlei, Namibia.  24 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/22.

A wide angle allows you to get close and low to interesting foregrounds, like these dunes near Sossusvlei, Namibia. 24 mm., 1/4 sec. @ f/22.

This is the second of two parts on using the wide-angle lens in landscape photography.  The first part dealt with basic concepts like what makes a wide-angle lens, full-frame vs. crop-frame, etc.  Now let’s dive into actually using these lenses to create good images.

Here are a few things the wide-angle lens allows you to do:

      • Create a sense of space.  This might seem obvious, but these lenses’ wide fields of view can really help to create the mood of freedom that wide-open spaces can give.  Some viewers will be turned off or even frightened by wide-open spaces, but most will have a positive response. Images like the above tend to give the viewer a sense of the wild, lonely spaces of desert, mountain, ocean and more.
      • Help to add a sense of depth to your image.  Pictures are two-dimensional.  Particularly with landscapes, if you give the viewer some sense of three-dimensionality, or depth, you can put them into the scene.  Note that simply using a wide-angle lens will not add depth; it takes more than that.  A while back, I did a post, Depth, where I described some of the other things you can do to add depth.
A new image from SW Colorado.

A brand new image from SW Colorado.

      • Allow you to maximize depth of field, where more of the image is in focus.  This will help you to tell a story with your image.  In the picture at top, I wanted to highlight the side-lit sand ripples in the beautiful reddish dunes of the Namib desert.  They form strong leading lines that help give the image impact and move the viewer into the image.  Since the wider the angle the more depth of field, a wide angle (plus small aperture) will help you bring all the main elements into focus, from front to back.
      • Include surrounding elements that support your main subject.  Though this one comes in handy not as much with landscapes as with environmental portraits, where the frame includes not only the person or animal but surroundings that tell important things about it.  But if you’re shooting landscapes with strong subjects, there is nothing preventing you from moving in close to that subject and shooting it as you would an environmental portrait.
      • Give a sense of scale.  Though you can certainly use other focal lengths to give a powerful sense of the different sizes of elements in your frame, the wide-angle lens makes it all the easier.
A new image from SE Utah.

A new image from SE Utah, 16 mm. focal length

A pause while hiking at Coldwater Lake, Mount St. Helens, WA.  Shooting this at 24 mm. helps give a sense of scale between my uncle and the enormous tree blown down by the eruption of 1980.

Hiking at Coldwater Lake, Mount St. Helens, WA. Shooting this at 24 mm. & adding my uncle helps provide a sense of the scale of this enormous tree blown down by the eruption of 1980.

There are also a couple potential pitfalls to using a wide-angle lens:

  • Distortion, while present in all lenses, is greatest in wide-angle lenses.  I won’t go into the different types of distortion here.  Suffice to say you’ll notice it when using a wide-angle.  Of course, you may be going for a distorted look, at least to a moderate extent, but for most images it needs to be minimized.  Distortion is fixable to a large extent on the computer afterwards, but it makes sense to be aware of it while shooting.  Here are a couple tips to avoid problems related to distortion:
    • Leave some space around the edges of your composition, especially when you’re going very wide (14-20 mm.) and when tilting the camera significantly.  This will help during post-processing, when some cropping will take place during correction of distortion.  You don’t want to cut off anything important.
    • Avoid putting people or other important subjects along the edges, and especially in the corners, of a wide-angle frame.  This is where distortion is greatest, and you don’t want people to see a picture of themselves stretched in strange ways, believe me.
  • Wide-angles tend to make things appear small.  This is probably the number one complaint that photographers have about wide angle lenses.  While it is certainly true that the shorter focal lengths of wide-angle lenses come with smaller magnifications, once you learn to tap into their strengths, you’ll find this is not really a shortcoming at all. It’s all in the way you use the lens.  Here are a couple examples to give you an idea how I use my wide-angle lenses to help me get past this “limitation” and unleash their potential to add impact to my images.
    • Getting Close to Big Subjects:  If you want to capture a wide part of your subject, whether that’s a swath of terrain, a tree or something else, you need to either pick a very large subject or get close to it, or both.  These two factors are always going to matter when using the wide-angle lens.  You don’t have much control over the size of your subject (other than picking a different one!), but you do have control over how close you get.

The cardon cactus (Baja’s largest) in the image below is quite large.  When I shot it from 10 or 15 feet away, I wasn’t too happy.  By switching to a wider angle and getting very close I prevented the wide-angle from making it look smaller than it is (1st image below).  Then by getting so close I was basically inside it (ouch!) and shooting up at an even steeper angle, I finally got an image that tells the story of this species’ towering, “reaching for the sky” nature (2nd image below).  Both of these were shot at 24 mm.

Cardon cactus on Mexico's Baja Peninsula grow very large.

Cardon cactus on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula grow very large.

A big cardon cactus soars into the desert skies of the Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

A big cardon cactus soars into the desert skies of the Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

This portrait of an ancient pinyon pine in Black Canyon of the Gunnison N.P., Colorado was shot at 24 mm. to let me get close into the shade of the tree and yet show most of its form.

This ancient pinyon pine has been growing with others of its kind on the rim of Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison for some 750 years.

The pinyon pine in the above environmental portrait is a fascinating but not especially huge tree (at least to an Oregon boy!).  Moving close to it with a wide-angle lens allowed me to fill the frame, emphasizing its form along with the color & texture of its bark.  I wanted just enough background to show its surroundings while not making the tree look too small.  A bonus of moving close was being able to get into the tree’s shade.  During mid-morning’s intense sunshine, this kept exposure from becoming too much of a problem.

New image, Utah Canyonlands.  Shot at 23 mm.

New image, Utah Canyonlands. Shot at 23 mm.

    • Include Foreground, and Get Close!  This is probably the most popular way to use wide-angle lenses in landscape photography.  Getting close is usually a key strategy.  Many times photographers will pick very interesting foregrounds, such as beautiful flower-fields, but then not get close enough.  Foregrounds tend to get lost in many images.

Try this:  Play around with your position.  Find a great background, a mountain- or city-scape for example.  Then look for some interesting foreground element, let’s say it’s flowers in bloom.  Shoot at a single, wide focal length throughout, say 21 mm., and a small aperture (f/22).  You’ll probably need a tripod as well.  Start from 10-20 feet away at eye-level.  Then try a lower position, say belt-level.  Then get closer to it, say 5 feet.  Shoot from eye level, chest-level, belt & knee level.  Get as low as you can without blocking the main subject in the background.  The angle that you tilt your camera downward will necessarily change as your camera position changes.

You’ll find that changing the camera’s position plus its tilt changes the relative impact of foreground and background.  If you are a few inches from ground-level with your camera pointed upward, the background subject(s) will be smaller and sky might dominate the image.  If you’re position is higher and camera pointed down or level, the background subject(s) will look bigger.  Though I asked you to stick with one focal length for the exercise, in reality you may find yourself going to a wider focal length as you get very close to your foreground.  Just realize that going wider also makes the background subject appear smaller.

You need to decide which position yields a picture that matches what you want to show about the scene.  Do you want the foreground to be emphasized or the mountains?  Do you want balance between the two?  You’ll see that the nature and size of your background and foreground, plus your camera position, strongly influence the relative size of those things in your pictures.

Mount Rainier soars above Eunice Lake in Washington.  Shot at 27 mm. and positioned to give the foreground flowers just enough oomph to support but not overwhelm the mountain.

Mount Rainier soars above Eunice Lake in Washington. Shot at 27 mm. and positioned to give the foreground flowers just enough oomph to support but not overwhelm the mountain.

In the image of Mt. Rainier above, I moved closer and lower to the flowers until they had some impact but didn’t quite out-compete Mt. Rainier for attention. Though it might not look like I was that close to the flowers, I was really only five feet or so from them.  This is the great thing about grand background subjects. Their size means that in order to balance them with foreground, you need to move real close to that foreground.  This is good because it adds depth and impact to your image, without taking away from the main subject.

Realize that you and you alone are in control of the overall feel and story in your image.  You can pick your background, foreground, and (crucially) a suitable camera position that will emphasize different parts of the frame. These choices will in turn help to give an overall feel or mood to your image.  They will help you tell the story you want to tell.

Dusk comes to a dry valley in eastern Oregon's "outback".

Dusk comes to a dry valley in eastern Oregon’s “outback”.  A recent image shot at 16 mm.

In the image above, I got very close to the foreground textures of the salty pan.  I shot very wide at 16 mm. to emphasize the big landscape and skies, but stayed up at about belt level with the camera pointed slightly down.  This was so that the Trout Creek Mtns. would not appear too short and so the foreground would take up roughly 2/3 of the image.  I tried a lower position with more sky but ultimately decided that the sky would take care of itself without taking up most of the image (and making the mountains too small).

Hope you got something out of this.  If you’re one of those who has become frustrated using a wide-angle lens, just keep at it.  Play with angles and GET CLOSER!  You’ll soon discover the true potential of the wide-angle.

If you’re interested in purchase options for any of these images, just click on them to be taken to the main part of my website.  They are protected by U.S. copyright and not available for free download, sorry.  Please contact me if you have any questions or want to order a print (framed or unframed) directly from me.  I can also do signed limited edition prints.  Take a look at the selection of limited edition prints on my site.

Thanks for your interest.  Have a great weekend!

Sunset over the Columbia River from Munra Point, Oregon.

Sunset over the Columbia River from Munra Point, Oregon.  Wide-angles don’t always mean low camera positions!

Botswana's Okavango Delta, a waterworld!

Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a watery wonderland!

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.

%d bloggers like this: