This post should be titled; "Zooming in to get the Details" but then you might not have clicked on it. I'm learning from Facebook and Buzzfeed that I need a click-bait title in order to win the blog game. But seriously, landscape photography and wide-angle lenses are two peas in a pod. They go together like Forrest and Jenny...if Jenny wasn't constantly sending mixed signals and manipulating Forrest.
There are lots of reasons that we love wide-angle nature and landscape photography, it's grand, powerful, and you really feel like you're in the photo. Which is the ideal of landscape photography if I'm not mistaken. But because I needed something to write about and I have lots of photos that I need a reason to share, let's dive into why you should ditch your 16-35mm f/4L lens and zoom in more!
A couple of years ago I was standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking Canyonlands National Park and I had a problem; I had been there all morning taking beautiful photos of the dramatic sunrise but I was longing for more. More clouds would have been nice, maybe an early morning December thunderstorm with a sky full of lightning would have been fun but there I was risking life and limb and I was quite...bored. Nature does not bore me let's get that out of the way right now, but photography does bore me sometimes. I needed a good challenge and so I asked my good friend Rick Louie if I could borrow his 70-200mm f/2.8L lens to play around with some zoomed in details. Rick looked at me blankly then looked at the beautiful morning light and said "I guess" so I went about looking for different perspectives and really trying to be a good photographer. It went...ok.
See the reason why we all love those awe inspiring wide-angle landscape scenes is because they are awe inspiring. If wide-angle landscape photos are the jocks of landscape photography, then a zoomed-in detail focused landscape photo is a member of the math club. It's more subtle, it requires thought and deliberation, and most of all...it's just not as sexy as the wide-angle shots. Now I have nothing against the mathletes in our midst for they probably work for CAD companies and making absurd amounts of money. But none the less, the awe inspiring photos get all the glory.
Do you want proof of how hard it is to get a really good zoomed-in landscape photo? Go out and try it, you'll be frustrated quicker than a teenager trying to use Windows 95. And for good reason because it's really hard. Well at least for me it's really hard. When taking landscape photography I'm good at a few things with a zoom lens, one being juxtaposition but aside from that I don't really know what I'm doing. But just like that morning in Moab perched on the side of a cliff, you have to be willing to challenge yourself and your comfort zone in order to grow as a photographer. That means taking lots of frustrating "crappy" photos in order to teach yourself to look at the details of a landscape scene, find what nobody would see because they all have their grand vistas.
Here is a really good exercise next time you do out to do landscape photography, bring a 100mm prime lens if you have one. Hell, bring a prime non-wide angle lens. You'll be sufficiently frustrated by your fifth photo you might even consider voting for...nevermind I won't discuss politics. But next time you're photographing a landscape, use your feet and explore the area. Zoom in on the details and try to compose an interesting scene. It may not look as sexy as a wide-angle shot would, but this exercise will teach you to use your creativity. Now good lighting, an interesting landscape, and good composition still win but it's how you use those to create your zoomed-in photo that will set it apart from all the wide-angle ones out there.
Go outside and try your hand at zooming in on the details of your landscape photography and find out what you've been missing.