Get closer to Landscape Photography, again.
My approach to landscape photography has come to a sort of dead point. It turned from a constant discovery to a mechanical sequence of activities: find a nice spot – wait for the best light – shoot. This seems to be the regular path for a photographer who wants to portray the beauty of nature, but I felt like I was missing something.
Enjoy the moment, fill your eyes – not only memory cards
This opening may sound odd in a blog which talks about photography. However, the truth is that a ZEISS lens, in a certain way, helped me to feel the act of capturing pictures again.
This is a time when photography has become a common part of our daily life and everyone wants to get some exposure on the social media platforms. Well, I get involved in this cycle too, but with the consequences I explained above. When I initially recognized this loss of enthusiasm in my very passion, I imposed myself to change something in the way I shoot and to put some distance between me and the social media rush. The result is this series of pictures I took thinking at landscape with a more intimate and close mood.
A Landscape Portrait Session
The relationship between these natural subjects and me were similar to a portrait session and for this reason I chose to realize my intentions with a lens that is particularly famous in the portrait world: the Milvus 2/135. I tried to get the most beautiful part from the forests I walked through, from the mountains which disappeared behind the quick passage of the clouds, empathizing on the details I felt more intense. Such a long lens was perfect to compose with a subtractive approach rather than the additive one which tends to be adopted when using a wide angle lens. Excluding the distracting elements from the sight to keep the complete attention on the main character is an effective technique used in cinematography too, which goes under the name of negative space. Nonetheless, even the large vistas have a different flavor when captured with this type of lens, because the elements in the scene are much more balanced and not stretched by exaggerate perspectives. If I had to say this in two words, I would describe a telephoto landscape shot less dramatic and more quiet, cozy.
Since I never used a lens this long on a landscape, I initially thought my idea was a bit too ambitious: of course framing is always essential when taking a picture, but if a wide lens gives some tolerance, at least to me, a telephoto requires much more attention and the risk to get a dull result is near the corner. However, once you get used to the field of view of your lens, once you start “seeing” with that focal length, things get easier and easier. Furthermore, this lens offers a great support in terms of out of focus areas rendition. The Milvus 2/135 is a truly bokeh champion and I found this quality incredibly useful even when shooting landscapes.
You can isolate your subject with a tight frame, but working with the depth of field is even more effective and challenging. A rule of thumb in landscape photography is to accordingly place in frame both foreground and background objects in order to create a sense of depth and a leading path for the eye. With a long lens this is quite difficult to obtain, since the scene appears much more compressed rather than using a wide angle lens, but on the other hand telephotos have a great advantage in terms of subject isolation and bokeh. So, when I spotted that young deer in front of the hut, I kept the trees next to me in frame and shot at the maximum aperture available, which is pretty impressive at f/2. From the very blurred branches on the left to the slightly out of focus pines on the right, the picture gets the focus on the animal giving the perception of the space and the distance between the observer and the subject.
The qualities of the Milvus 2/135 don’t stop at its great bokeh capacities. As this project was oriented to a more minimalistic photography, I appreciated the smooth light falloff in the corners when shooting at the largest aperture. This effect is related to the design of every lens and disappears almost completely once it is stopped down a bit, but I enjoy how the vignetting globally improves some of the pictures, helping to focus on the subjects.
Pair the right tools
Another essential telephoto requirement is the sharpness, because it is supposed to be used when shooting far things and details. Sharpness is not unknown at ZEISS, but in order to get the most crispy image this lens can produce, I paired the Milvus with an important, life saver tool: a polarizer filter. Just rotating the front element of this filter I could avoid the reflections on wet grass or leaves, which is a thing to consider when shooting early with the morning dew. Furthermore, this filter mitigate the atmospheric glare on distant objects (e.g. the blue tint of the far mountains), bringing back the contrast and the vivid colors. The overall result is a picture with darker blacks and stronger, authentic colors, which I always prefer.