In this short article I’ll explain how and why one might want to blend focal lengths. It’s a controversial topic, but one I am asked about more frequently than anything else!
Focal length blending for landscape photography is a technique that treads the line between something rather technical and also very artistic, but may not be for everyone. It isn’t my place to judge how one approaches something artistically and I want to give you the tools to create something unique!
Also, check out my recent article on Focus Stacking!
Why blend focal lengths?
“Focal Length Blending” or “Perspective Blending”, as I prefer to call it, is a technique that takes multiple images to complete, shifting focal lengths and adjustive the cameras angle to maintain perspective between each image. It has a time and place where its most useful, typically when mountains or large, distant and important compositional elements are involved.
For instance, if we were high in the mountains and using a wide angle lens to capture some large peaks in the distance; you might notice that the wide angle lens you’re using to capture that immersive foreground is making the mountains quite small.
This is due mainly to the wide angle lens’ nature and physics; The wider we go, the smaller distant objects become. Inversely, the longer the focal length or ‘tighter’ we go, the more “compression”, or magnification, comes into play and the larger and less distorted distant objects become.
I have heard the phrase “we humans see similarly to a 50mm lens”, but personally I think we have the peripheral vision of about an 8mm and the central vision of about a 70mm lens. Something extremely difficult for a lens to replicate.
If done tastefully, and with consideration for scale, it can change the whole feel of an image. I personally use this technique here and there, and I’ll admit, I’ve overdone it a time or two, blending some extreme focal lengths together but its important to know what not to do as it is what to do. In other words, knowing our artistic and creative limits. I’ve also caught a lot of flack for this technique, but Interestingly they’re a few of my favorite images because of how different they are from other images of similar places.
I think it’s important to try and capture a scene, not only in a unique way but in a way that makes your viewer feel immersed. Utilizing the wide angle lens’ distortion does this really well, however, we lose the “dominating” or prominence of distant, large objects. To correct this we can take an additional image, or images, to capture distant objects with more stature at longer focal lengths.
Sure, there are other techniques to achieve a similar result, like panorama’s. Both vertical or horizontal can achieve a similar result, but also require blending, although it can usually be done automatically using software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. These softwares are not yet capable of automatically blending images of different focal lengths, yet.
The in-field work
This is definitely the tough part to grasp when it’s explained, but let’s try!
Imagine that you’re overlooking a river in Patagonia; Mount Fitz Roy is looming high in the distance – The shrubbery sparse. I attempted to fill the frame with the shrubs at my feet by getting low, and fairly wide at 32mm, but the mountains became so small and underwhelming. Zooming in to 42mm and panning up slightly I was able to maintain the horizon line and a similar amount of sky in the closer image, but the mountains appear larger and more true to life.
This image is one of the more straight forward and simple examples. The relatively flat and simple horizon and elements along it provide a good alignment point and texture that acts as camouflage for our ‘blend or transition zone” (where the two images join).
The idea is that you’re looking for a place between the images that makes sense to align and therefor blend later. When I am setting up the composition I am considering almost everything within the scene in terms of my wider focal length, “how can I fit it all in WITHOUT having to blend?”.
This will help you establish a composition that, in case the focal length shift doesn’t work out, you will still have a usable image (this means bracketing if needed as well). The other benefit to this approach is that it will establish a logical horizon line. Of which you can match when you zoom in to a tighter focal length. I usually try and establish a relationship with the horizon in my wider image to a button near my cameras LCD screen for reference in case I am shooting downward and need to pan back up after zooming. This is very frequently the case, and you will almost always need to reposition your horizon unless you composed with a completely level camera.
If this technique is something you’ve been wanting to learn and all of the writing and videos just aren’t making sense? Then consider joining myself and good friend Jesse Moran on a 5 day adventure packed workshop through Death Valley, the Eastern Sierra foothills and tucked away landscapes. To learn more information or to sign-up, click the button below!
Also, until January 20th save $200.00 on THIS workshop and the “Rugged Oregon Coast and Redwoods” Workshop! Mention code ADVENTURE2020 at checkout!
More Examples of Focal length Blends
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Interview With Iceland Photo Tours By Serena Dzenis - December 2019
Photographer of the Month: Joshua Snow Interview with American photographer Joshua Snow By Christian Hoiberg
Matt Payne Photography Blog: Interview With Joshua Snow On F-Stop Collaborate And Listen - April 14, 2017
Interview with Landscape Photographer Joshua Snow By Loaded Landscapes - Mar 30, 2018
Landscape Photographer Reveals Secret to Success with Joshua Snow By FStoppers
Interview With Joshua Snow by Photography Talk
Podcast interview With Joshua Snow By The Photog Adventures - September, 2017
"Beyond the typical Photo" with Joshua Snow - Interview by David Johnston and the Landscape Photography Show
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