Despite all the advances and advantages of digital photography, and the sheer number of pictures now being produced, I find most people are using the same "formula" for their work. Super wide angle lens, angled down to give a huge foreground which then zooms off to infinity. Now don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with this approach and it has produced some wonderful and amazing sweeping landscapes, but it can become a little repetitive at times. It’s also not possible to do justice to many landscapes using this approach for a variety of reasons:
Possibly the composition you need can’t be achieved
The weather might be flat and grey
Perhaps the landscape is just too vast
When this happens I suggest you turn to "cropping" your landscapes and I don’t mean in Photoshop (although that can sometimes work). Here are three approaches you might want to consider.
Take this landscape shot for example. This was shot from the side of Yewbarrow looking across Wasdale Head towards Scafell Pike. The area is simply spectacular from this vantage point and you would need at least a 270 degree panoramic to do justice to it and even then I’m not certain. My alternative approach is instead to use a telephoto lens to crop in on an area of the landscape. I feel this creates a more dramatic image with much more impact than a pretty (but spectacular) landscape panoramic.
Using the longer lens I have cropped in to and emphasise the most dramatic elements of the landscape. The scale of the landscape has not been diminished as it would using a wide angle lens and whilst the longer lens has compressed the perspective, including the side of the mountain on the right has allowed me to retain a feeling of depth.
Another much more common approach to cropping the landscape which often works well under flat dull lighting conditions is to concentrate on just one simple element or subject. Take this rock formation for example.
When this was shot the lighting conditions were flatter than an 18% Grey Card and including much more of the landscape was simply out of the question. Fortunately there were plenty of rock details on which to concentrate and the even lighting created by the overcast sky allowed me to create a nicely exposed image. I later boosted the contrast in Photoshop and tweaked the saturation a little to emphasise the orange rock strata.
The other technique to consider when cropping the landscape to isolate a subject is depth of field. Think about it and you realise you are cropping the depth in your image rather than the edges. Take the picture below for example.
It was shot with a standard lens on a Medium Format camera, with the lens wide open at f/2.8. The standard lens has allowed me to crop in on my subject but the wide aperture has thrown the background, including a very uninteresting sky, completely out of focus. When you see the full size print of this image you realise the depth of field is only about 12 inches allowing me to keep the bow of the boat and lobster pots in focus. This approach also allowed me to retain the distinctive mound of Lindisfarne castle, even though blurred, to provide a sense of place.
Next time you are shooting landscapes and find yourself faced with poor lighting or compositions that just won’t work, consider cropping.
Words and images by Robin Whalley - www.lenscraft.co.uk
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