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Long Distance Landscape
by Les Voorhis

© 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, wide-angle view.

© Les Voorhis

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 enlargements.

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 websites:
Profotos - Les Voorhis

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