Telephoto Lenses to Compress a Scene

It had been a longtime goal to shoot the fields of sunflowers in Tuscany. But trips there in June were too early, and trips in August were too late. Then, one summer, on a drive to Cortona a field of perfect sunflowers appeared, at a time when all the others were far past prime. Apparently the farmer had been late sowing that plot. The field was in a flat area, efficient for farming, but without the hilly beauty typical of Tuscany. So: how to take advantage of this opportunity, when the “hillside of flowers” archetype was not possible?

The first images shot were with a standard length lens, and results, as shown at the bottom below, were unimpressive. However, switching to a long telephoto lens, and using the car as a shooting platform for height, produced the top image below, a simple field image, with no sky, no horizon, no foreground, or any of the other typical landscape elements. And yet this image is one that is so evocative for people that it remains in the portfolio year after year.


200mm lens shot of the sunflower field, compressing the scene from above.Sunflowers40mm-1

40mm lens shot, up close, producing much more emphasis on the flowers in the foreground.

C. David Tobie


The Search for the Perfect Olive

Its always useful to have one or more photographic searches going on as you shoot. For a landscape photographer this is often in the form of the perfect light or the perfect clouds for a given shot. In the case of the image below, it was the search for the perfect olive tree. Olive trees have a gnarly, bonsai quality about them that make them an ideal subject for shots that could almost be thought of as portraits. However, they travel in packs, and it can be quite difficult to isolate your picturesque olive against a clean background, instead of a snarl of other olive branches.

After a few years of searching for just the right subject, the olive tree below finally presented itself, within sight of the hotel often used during the search. The first image below is the envisioned shot. Full sun, full color, high detail, right down to the individual olives, most suited for a print about two meters high.


However, its always a good idea to study your subject from all angles. The shot below is the same tree, from the opposite side. It offers a different perspective of the tree, a different feel to the image, and a vignette of the hills, valley, and village of Pienza in the distance, rather like the background in the Mona Lisa. While it is not the intended image, it may well be more salable than the full color shot above.


C. David Tobie

Serendipity in Photography

No matter how well planned your shoot, no matter how well organized your equipment, the moment comes when the unexpected presents itself. It may come in the form of unexpected weather, conditions far hotter or cooler then anticipated, or photo subjects that were not planned. In landscape photography a large number of the better photos are serendipitous, with cloud patterns or lighting that could not possibly be anticipated, but can be captured if the timing and equipment is right. In the photo below, serendipity occurred in the form of wine barrels that had been moved outside from the cantina on their way to recycling, but which, while they were there, provided a wonderful photo op.


C. David Tobie

Enriching Sunset Photography with Clouds

The shots below are both taken from the same vantage point, several months apart.  The first is a typical sunset shot, which gains most of its interest from the Cypress trees silhouetted in the foreground. A few wisps of cloud help add a bit of character to the sky. Satisfying, but very simple.


The second shot below shows the same grove of trees, but with a very different mood, from the cloud cover. There is still a sense of sunset from the salmon tones near the horizon, but much more drama from the summer storm clouds moving down the valley. So don’t skip the sunset photo shoot on days with clouds or threatening weather, the results may be even more useful than sunset shots from blue-sky days.


C. David Tobie

Relating Organic and Geometric Forms

Vineyards offer an excellent opportunity to think abstractly about the organic forms of the landscape, and the geometric forms of the vine rows layered on top of that landscape. The patterns that result from this contract can produce very satisfying photographs. The first image below uses the organic landscape forms as big, powerful curves at the skyline. Below them the geometry of the vines takes over, creating patterns within patterns form the rows and the individual vine locations. Free-standing California Zinfindel vines are excellent for this type of image, as they do not have the heavy hardware involved in trellising most vines in America.


The following image includes more factors, making the organic/geometric relationship less obvious. Here there is the symmetry of the hill behind, and the tree trees just in front of it. Yet the straight lines of the rows of vines and the pattens the tiller has left in the open ground still add relationships and texture to the overall image. The less hardware-intensive methods used to trellis vines in Tuscany make this image cleaner and less distracted than a similar image would be in California.


C. David Tobie

Local Color as an Emotional Key

Color is something the human eye reads in many ways. One of those ways is as memory colors, the color of our childhood holidays, of the sky in our favorite location, or other emotionally linked memories. When a color stands out, consider its memory color value to your audience. Anyone who has experienced the vivid cranberry color of blueberry barrens or cranberry bogs in the fall will instantly recognize that tone in a landscape. Similarly, the unique orange tone of the seashore lichen shown below will tell viewers in England, New England, and the other coastal locations where it grows, that this is a shot from near the ocean, be it on a gravestone, or a natural outcropping.

Designers looking to trigger these local memory colors will be happy to find your images including them, if they are tagged in a way that makes them visible when making location-oriented searches.

Orange Lichen-1

C. David Tobie

Heroic Shots of Small Subjects

Sometimes the hero shot is the right answer, even when it does not seem to be the likely question. In this instance, a clean, simple image, without background elements, (as tempting as ocean backgrounds can be) produces a more focussed image, with a clearer composition. The low angle of the shot, taken crouched and kneeling, cleans up the background, but also produces the classic heroic image. While dune grass surviving the winter and a short section of dune fencing may not be a monumental subject matter, treating it as one gets the viewer to look at it in a new way.

Popham Stillife-1

C. David Tobie