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Tuesday, August 25

Landscapes with a 300mm lens

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the problems I've been having with the film transport mechanism of my beloved OM2. I'd been out taking a few landscape-type shots with a rarely used 300mm f5.6 Tamron SP lens but didn't know if the camera would be winding on properly.

Regular reader Steve Barnett commented after that post, "Oh no! It's like reading a book only to find out the last page has been ripped out! Come on, get the film shot and us out of our misery ;-)"

Well, the good news, Steve, is that the requirement for a double stroke wind-on with the OM2 doesn't seem to affect the film's transport through the camera. Above is a pic from the 300mm that I took whilst the camera was resting on the tailgate of my old Saab 900, as explained in the earlier post.

I liked the look of it when I was looking through the viewfinder so I'm pleased - and relieved - that the shots came out OK. We're often told that a wide angle lens makes a good choice for landscape work but I miss more pictures because I don't have a long enough lens on the camera.

Another view of the barn

I suppose it depends on the kind of landscape you're likely to encounter: I think wide angles are good for fairly flat countryside but a long tele comes in very useful in hilly land. Just 20 miles north of my home in Carnoustie are the Angus Glens, a range of hills, not too high, but quite varied and often shrouded in mists and "dreich" weather.

I've lost count of the number of times I've been driving along and spotted distant hilltops intersecting and rising from mist-filled glens. A 300mm lens or longer would be great for isolating those vignettes but it's not something I often carry. I must make a point of keeping the Tamron in the car.

It was just about the perfect focal length for the photographs above. The sun was setting and glancing off the roof of the farm building and I had a feeling there was a photograph there. I ended up chopping off the right hand corner of the barn roof because there was a tree there that was poking into the frame and ruining the composition. It was a choice of losing the tree or the end of the barn roof.

There's detail in the shadowed side of the barn and if I'd been a zone system worker I might have wanted to include it but I decided to just go with featureless black to highlight the angular nature of the building and, in keeping with the phase I'm in at the moment, reduce detail in the image.

And the 300mm SP lens? I can't say the negatives are tack sharp or anything like that but they are probably sharp enough. As usual, though, I'll need to print from them to know for sure and that's not going to happen any time soon with our house being on the market and half my darkroom stuff packed away.


Jim Wolf said...

Even if I'm shooting with Leicas, there's almost always an F2 or F3 with the 300 4.5 EDIF on the front seat. Just long enough to isolate a subject, and great for 'from the car' shots when you don't, or can't, park and hike.

David M said...

The idea that certain kinds of lenses are especially suitable for certain kinds of shot can be a handicap if you let yourself believe it.
Certainly, if you want a bird on a twig a mile away, or somebody else's husband or wife in a distant bedroom window, then a long lens is needed. If you're photographing a large building in a narrow street, you'll need a wide angle.
But good landscape photography means making photographs about the land, not just of it. Small details may well tell more than sweeping panoramas.
In any case, if you choose to cram everything in, you can only take one shot and then go home. A landscape shot isn't better because it includes a lot of land. If you look at a really great landscape photographer, like Fay Godwin. you'll see that the key is observation. And thoughtful observation, too. I don't think I've ever wondered what focal length she'd used. When an image is right, these thought melt away.

Bruce Robbins said...


I understand your comment re Fay Godwin. Although I enjoy looking at her pics, that's not what I'm after at all. I have a very specific type of shot in mind when speaking of using a long tele. In my case, the long tele isn't "especially suitable" but indispensable. Try as I might, I've never been able to compress perspective using a wide angle. ;)

David M said...

I know what you mean about compression. And objects assume a more natural scale relative to each other with long lenses, too. No bizarre, distracting perspective effects. Your barn picture is a good example, I think. Relaxed but not slack in composition.
Does this make any sense?

Bruce Robbins said...

Let me think about it for a while. :)

David M said...

Exactly. The thinking photographer is what I trying to say in a rather roundabout way. Naturally, different people have different thoughts. Fay was concerned with the usage of land. I think you're using the outside world as raw material for making the kind of images you have inside. Naturally, you produce different work. Both worthwhile.
I seem to be trespassing on the borders of art-speak gibberish again.

Steve Barnett said...

Well I'm glad your Oly and 300mm is all sorted out now Bruce, I can sleep again without worrying ;-)

Focal length and landscape is a fascinating subject. Photographers such as A. Adams would use whatever focal length they needed, from telephoto to wide, because of the vastness of the landscapes he generally dealt with, while Godwin with her Rollieflex photographed a 'human scale' landscape. In either case there are no rules being broken because there is reasoning behind the decisions, an intellectual content.

The pictures of the barn follow this trend because the intent is to use isolation and abstraction as an element of the photograph, not simply a case of using a telephoto lens because Bruce couldn't get close enough to photograph the barn properly. And whether a wide or a tele, or Godwin's standard lens, such an approach acknowledges the way each lens changes perception and hopefully connects with the end viewer. Very different from the usual idea of what lenses are used for in landscape, 'I need to get closer' or 'I need a new wide for landscape'. In thinking about abstraction for example I think you could more legitimately say 'I need to get further away' as it is dealing with the ways a telephoto lens renders a scene rather than simply 'getting you closer to a scene', and anyway getting closer is what cars were invented for.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Hi Steve - with regard to Fay - I thought she used Rolleis exclusively too, until I watched this - if you can get around the oh-so-terrible VHS cassette losing its coating effect, the documentary is very illuminating:

Łukasz Jastrzębski said...

There are some impossible tasks. There are some bad choices. When on oxbow lakes or dense forest marshes, 90% of the time I can't zoom with my legs, The vegetation and terrain dictate where I can or can't stand. I'm happy when I can make a step or two to improve things, but most of the time the terrain is really sketchy: one foot to the left and I'm sliding down into the mud, one to the right and the branches come into a frame, or chest-high bramble, 2m high grass, nettles and thistles, or a beaver path is not in the right place anymore. It's not as easy as they say it is, not when working in dense vegetation on any kind of environmental border. And natural borders are special places.

I wish I could afford a good superwideangle lens, somewhere between 16 and 20mm, just for situations involving dense vegetation and uneven terrain. 28mm is the widest lens I have. I mean I can flip the camera vertically if a tree doesn't fit in horizontal position, but that's not a real solution. It's not about cramming stuff into the frame, but about being honest about the beauty one sees. It sometimes can't fit into the frame with 28mm lens and with 50mm is ceases to exist.

Regarding long lenses, check out Wiktor Wołkow and his work. Landscape, nature and countryside in fine art photography. It seems like gear-wise nothing below 500mm (medium format) interested him.


John Robison said...

Have an OM system also. A lens I find handy to take is the diminutive Zuiko 200mm f5, a truly small 200. Even if I don't use it it takes up very little space and is a good 'just in case' lens.