Text and photos by Ian Shive


It's the classic landscape:

an epic panorama that includes a nice foreground element—a chunk of calved glacier, reflective pool of water, moss-covered rock, or spray of wildflowers.

Most photographers would instinctively reach for a wide-angle lens (16-35mm) and leave their telephoto lenses in the camera bag, saving them for wildlife or action shots. But it's time to think outside the ultrawide and retool the grand landscape with a 70mm or longer lens.

For starters, foreground elements aren't always necessary. It's rare that you'll find the perfect foreground element anyway—you may not find a single one on your backpack trip. While I still have a not-so-secret love affair with predictable foregrounds, my best landscapes are often shot at 70mm all the way up to 400mm.

A long lens brings a new perspective to scenics

Here are key factors that make the image work when there is no obvious foreground element.

•Find a line your eye can follow.

In the image of the moss-covered tree (opposite), the forest itself was littered with autumn color, mossy branches and many other vibrant distractions. Rather than shoot with a wide-angle lens and try to capture every aspect of this complex coastal rainforest, I found a tree in the distance and singled out its shape, lines, and colors with my 70-200mm lens at a 100mm focal length. It may appear to have been taken with a wide-angle, but the details are more accentuated, and your eye follows the branches through the scene.

Any element that leads the eye, such as a river, a mountain ridge, or a tHOH RAIN FOREST OF OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, WA: A 100mm focal length isolated the single tree in what would otherwise be an even more cluttered landscape. Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 70-200mm f/2.8L Canon EF IS lens. Exposure, 1/4 sec at f/32 through a polarizing filter to keep colors vibrant, ISO 100. Blacks enhanced in Adobe Camera RAW for better contrast. ▲LAKE MCDONALD, GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MT: Taken after sunset to ensure a placid lake and a cool blue color. Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 24-70mm f/2.8L Canon EF IS lens at 70mm. Exposure, 4 sec at f/22 through a 2-stop hard-edge ND filter to stretch out exposure time and control tone in the sky.



The winding dirt road draws the viewer's eye into the scene. Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D with 70-200mm f/2.8L Canon EF IS lens. Exposure, 1/8 sec at f/32 through 3-stop hard-edge split ND plus 1-stop hard-edge split coral filter to keep tone and color in sky. Blacks enhanced in postproduction in Adobe Camera RAW; color temperature set to a slightly warmer balance.

winding dirt road (above) is a great way to replace your foreground element and carry the scene. •Keep it steady. Long lenses do not play nicely with slow shutter speeds. Their long profiles catch every breeze and vibration, and their higher magnifications increase blur. While photographing yellow leaves against an old conifer (on the opposite page), the canopy of the forest and overcast sky spelled hideous conditions for a telephoto lens. But there are tricks to guarantee razor-sharp images.

First, maximize your depth of field by setting one of the smallest apertures available, especially if your subject is relatively close. (I often use f/32.)

Next, minimize vibrations. Mount your lens, not the camera body, to the tripod. The 70-200mm f/2.8L Canon EF IS lens I used for these shots has a tripod collar that attaches at the center of gravity of the combined camera and lens. (Many bigger lenses have tripod collars, although sometimes they are sold separately as accessories.) With the camera itself mounted to the tripod, the rig would be very nose-heavy and shake-prone.

Then, enable mirror lockup— the setting is usually in the camera's custom functions. The flipping of the reflex mirror can actually shake a long lens enough to ruin your shot.

Finally, use a cable release or the camera's self-timer to trip the shutter.

•Compose minimally. I

once heard an artist say that painters add to a canvas until their visualization is complete, whereas photographers try to simplify a scene, subtracting elements until the "canvas" is boiled down to just the basics. A telephoto lens is the best paintbrush for this.

The scene at Glacier National Park (on the opening spread) was astonishingly vast—it seemed that not even a 2mm fisheye (if such a thing existed) could take it all in. So I went telephoto, simplifying the elements of the landscape and benefiting from the compression that takes place with long-lens perspective. I used a moderate focal length, 70mm, and concentrated on the mountain's shape and jagged lines.

The lesson? When you find yourself in a very open space, switch to a long lens and scan around for a more essential, minimalist take. •Keep your contrast. When photographing with a tele across a long distance, haze, pollution, and other particles can reduce contrast


and wash out your images. A polarizing filter will cut through the haze and help preserve detail.

If you shoot in RAW (and you should), you can also add punch to your images in postproduction. Here's how I do it in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR): Open your image and make your usual adjustments. Either slide the tab to the right for deeper blacks until the image looks right (I did this for the mountain photo, above). Or, for finer tuning, go to the Tone Curve tab, where you can adjust highlights, lights, darks, and shadows. Experiment with the shadows and darks until you add enough contrast.

•Manage your aperture. When photographing objects that are


The blacks were enhanced in Adobe Camera RAW to boost the contrast. Handheld Canon EOS 5D with 70-200mm f/2.8L Canon EF IS lens. Exposure, 1/400 sec at f/11 through a polarizing filter, ISO 100.

reasonably close—less than a quarter of a mile away—I shoot only at the smallest aperture. With large apertures, such as f/2.8, there's a good chance that elements in the scene will be soft. This can be a desirable effect, but I prefer images that are as crisp as possible.

Also, large apertures vignette tele images—darken the edges and corners. (If you follow Pop Photo lens tests, you'll find that long lenses usually need to be stopped down 2 or 3 stops from maximum, sometimes more, to eliminate light falloff.)

So to keep colors and exposures balance throughout your images, use as small an aperture as you can. ©

Ian Shive is a Los Angeles-based nature photographer. To see more of his work, visit



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