Story and Photography by Darwin Wiggett
What’s the perfect landscape photography lens? Did you immediately think a wide-angle lens? It’s no wonder as wide views seem all the rage now; the wider, the better. Just check out any landscape photo-sharing website and you’ll see a flood of images created with wide focal lengths. After all, wide lenses take it all in and as photographers we want to show the big picture. Also, wide lenses add drama through their exaggerated perspective of a large, looming foreground and distant background. Add in a dose of golden light and you’ve got a winning formula sure to attract social media “likes.”
But… wait, pretty soon all these wide images start to look the same — something seems lacking. For me, what’s missing is a sense of realism; that feeling you get of understanding what it’s like to stand there in the scene. Wide shots feel “unreal” because of their forced perspective. We simply don’t see the world all stretched out with in-your-face, looming foregrounds and teensy-weeny, distant backgrounds. We see the world with human perspective. Unfortunately, the focal lengths that have this realistic “human-eye” perspective (50mm on full-frame cameras or 35mm on APS-C sensor cameras) don’t have those big angles of view that are so attractive. Or do they?
The great thing about digital photography is we can do things we never could with film. And one of those things is the ability to merge multiple images together to create a single seamless image. A common example of this technique is the panorama stitch. Most of us have done this. We take three to five photos of a single scene, panning horizontally and overlapping the frames by at least 30 percent. Then we use panoramic software to merge the images into one large photo. Simple. But for some reason most of us never think about image stitches beyond the panoramic format.
What if we wanted to make a photo with human-eye perspective but with a wide angle of view? The answer is easy. Shoot with a normal focal length and take multiple images to cover the area you would get with a wider angle lens.The framing does not have to be panoramic; it can be square or rectangular, vertical or horizontal. I often shoot two to four overlapping frames with my normal lens to give me the human-eye perspective, but the coverage of a wide lens. Sometimes it’s three horizontal images stacked vertically to give me a rectangular image in portrait format. Sometimes it’s four images all in vertical format but overlapping in a square grid (two rows and two columns) to give me a square format image. But just as often it’s just two overlapping images (either horizontally or vertically) to extend the angle of view.
The key to making these wide-angle, normal perspective photos is in ensuring you have at least 30 percent overlap of adjacent frames. Also, you need to keep the exposure between frames the same to make it easier for the software to blend the exposures. To blend the images I use the Photomerge script in Photoshop (File>Automate>Photomerge). In the Photomerge dialogue box I pick the files I want to use as the source files and choose “Reposition” in the layout options and check the “Blend Images Together” option. The resulting image blend is usually fantastic! I can’t believe how good the software is; it feels like some sort of alchemy at work. Once the software does its magic I fine tune the cropping. The end result feels wide and all-encompassing, but has a familiar human perspective. It literally feels like I’m standing in the scene. If you have Photoshop (or some other software with image merging capability) and a normal perspective lens or focal length on your zoom, then try this technique and see if you like the realistic looking wide images that result. You may never go back to a wide-angle lens again! Happy shooting.
To read more of this issue please pick up the Fall/Winter 2016 (#39) issue of OPC. Or to never miss an issue please SUBSCRIBE today!