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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Landscape Lenses

Focusing On Focal Lengths • Cave Photography • What You Should Bring • Tilt/Shift Lenses For Landscapes

What You Should Bring

My wife and I are going out West in July to shoot landscapes. I think I have pretty good camera equipment. For lenses, I have an 18-135mm zoom and a 200-500mm zoom. I have lens-protection filters, a polarizer, a skylight filter and an Epson P-5000. When I read through articles, I see photographers using neutral-density filters, special-effects filters for sunsets, split-color filters and colored polarizers. What special things would you want to have along for photographing Yellowstone, the Badlands and the Grand Tetons?
B. Altenburg
Via the Internet

You’re pretty well set with your equipment, except for the lack of coverage in the 135mm to 200mm range. This can be a critical range for landscape photography. There’s a reason why 80-200mm zooms are very popular!

An important accessory that you might be missing would be a cable release, which would be necessary if you wanted to do time exposures early or late in the day. Most digital and electronic film cameras take an electronic release. A two-axis bubble level that fits on your flash shoe can be very useful for taking composite panoramas. I’d never be caught without one, and so I tend to carry two.

Because of the 200-500mm zoom’s large front element, I’m concerned about your ability to use filters on it. Usually, we get one filter to fit the largest front element in the bag, then use step-down rings to make it fit the smaller lenses. But you may need to get an adapter that uses large, square filters to get full coverage on that big lens.

You may want to add a neutral-density filter (three-stop) because it can be helpful if you’re photographing water and want a long exposure. Get one to fit the largest lens and step-down rings to fit the rest. I carry a standard set of filters for landscape photography: a warm polarizer, a blue-gold polarizer and a Vari-ND (variable neutral-density filter) from Singh-Ray.

I’d advise that you bracket exposures to address high-contrast situations so commonly encountered in landscape photography, where you have dark foregrounds and bright skies. Using High Dynamic Range in Photoshop CS2 or CS3 (www.adobe.com) or Photomatix from HDRsoft (www.hdrsoft.com), you can solve this problem beautifully if you capture all the information when you take the shot (see the discussion of the HDR procedure in the previous question about photographing in caves). I suggest you check this out and practice before you leave on your trip so that when you encounter that fabulous red rock landscape, you‚’re ready to make the most of it.

Tilt/Shift Lenses For Landscapes

I understand that tilt/shift lenses can be helpful for landscapes, but they’re expensive! If you could own only one focal length, which one would it be and why?
S. Lightsey
Via the Internet

The advantage of a tilt/shift lens is that the front elements can be tilted to modify the plane of focus from the normal angle, which is perpendicular to the lens, to an angle that’s more or less than 90 degrees to the lens. Imagine two parallel planes, one perpendicular to the end of the lens and one at the front edge of the area of sharpness. When the plane at the end of the lens is tilted, the plane of sharpness tilts also, extending the range of the sharpness along the angled plane. Maximum depth of field is achieved when the top of the lens is tilted away from the photographer and a small lens aperture is used.

There are three basic focal lengths available. Canon offers 24mm, 45mm and 90mm tilt/shift lenses, and Nikon offers the 85mm PC Micro Nikkor. The two I’ve used the most for landscapes are the 24mm and 90mm. Each has a different purpose. The 24mm is especially useful when a moderately wide angle is needed, when the foreground is quite important and needs to be kept in focus along with more distant elements within the composition. It’s possible to have a foreground detail within inches of the lens sharply rendered, while also getting a sharp capture of the mountains in the background far away.

The 90mm lens is a moderate telephoto and is best for some depth compression in a composition, yet everything within the view needs to be sharp. This is often difficult with telephoto lenses because they typically offer minimal depth of field. The compression can be emphasized by adding either a 1.4x or 2x tele-extender to the 90mm tilt/shift lens.

Considering the 1.5x or 1.6x magnification of a smaller-sensor D-SLR, the compression is emphasized even more when using the longer focal-length lens. A perfect example for use of an 85mm or 90mm tilt/shift lens is a carpet of flowers photographed from a low angle, with all of the flowers tightly compressed and, due to the tilt, all of them in focus across their tops. This particular perspective is impossible to achieve with any other type of telephoto lens.

If I could have only one, I’d choose the 90mm, mainly because it can capture images that no other optic can. But if most of your landscapes are wide-angle, you might opt for the 24mm.

If your subject isn’t moving and you’re shooting with a tripod, you can have unlimited depth of field with new software called Helicon Focus (www.heliconfocus.com). Without reframing, adjust your focus through consecutive shots to cover the entire image. The software combines the images by keeping all sharp areas and masking the unsharp, and the result is complete depth of field, with objects both near and far in perfect focus. This technique can be used with any focal-length lens, and it takes up no space in your camera bag.

The shift factor in the tilt/shift lens is mostly used by architectural photographers for perspective control. There’s a way to use the shift features for three-shot panoramas when using a small-sensor D-SLR, but that’s another column.

> Visit www.geolepp.com.


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