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Tips and techniques

NATURE’S VIEW – Isolated Scenics

By March 21, 2014No Comments

Story and photograph by Jim Clark

Isolated Scenics

…or, how I learned to stop worrying and love telephoto zooms for landscape photography

Trees in meadow @ sunrise - Canaan Valley NWR WV (c) Jim Clark

Trees in meadow @ sunrise – Canaan Valley NWR WV (c) Jim Clark

Ever look at those images you captured with a wide-angle lens and feel like something was missing? The scene was magnificent and you feel stymied as to why the grandeur did not translate in your final image? It might be because you included too much of the scene in the composition.

May I suggest a technique to add to your photographic toolbox? Put aside the wide-angle, and use a longer focal length to photograph a select segment of the scene–what I refer to as an isolated scenic.

Here are some tips to consider when using this technique:

  1. From one scene, learn to see many. Before photographing, visually explore the scene and see if portions can be isolated to create a more dynamic image that emphasizes a few strong elements.
  2.  Isolate. Wide-angles open up a scene, emphasizing its vastness. Longer focal lengths, on the other hand, compress the elements, resulting in an image with a more intimate feeling. With narrower angles of view, focal lengths exceeding 80mm transform the complex and busy into the simple and selective, helping to fashion a well-defined composition.
  3.  Define and simplify the composition. Make order out of chaos by zooming in and simplifying the composition, focusing on the dominant features and limiting the visual elements to strong details.
  4.  Decide arrangement of primary and secondary elements. Centering the primary point of interest often fails to create a powerful image. Placing the point of interest off-center, however, may be effective in enticing the viewer to take a visual journey through the image to discover the composition’s secondary, supporting elements.
  5.  Telephoto zoom – an isolated scenic’s best friend. With telephoto zoom lenses, fine-tuning an isolated scenic becomes easier. Zooms provide quick cropping and are great in situations where movement is restricted. My zoom telephoto of choice for isolated scenics has been the 70-200mm.
  6.  Welcome inclement weather. For photographing isolated scenics of autumn colors, inclement weather becomes an asset, not a liability. Light overcast skies act as a giant diffuser, reducing or eliminating contrast from the scene. Be sure to use that polarizer to pop the colors and a tripod to avoid movement.
  7.  But also watch out for overcast skies. A word of caution about overcast skies: When photographing a forest scene under these conditions, exclude the sky from the final composition. A featureless sky does nothing to add snap or drama.
  8.  Sunrise, sunset. For some isolated scenics, I use focal lengths in the 300mm–400mm range. I particularly like this range when photographing sunrises and sunsets, since they ensure the sun becomes the primary element in the composition.

Isolated scenics yield simple yet appealing compositions of the natural world. Adding this technique to your repertoire gives you another way to excite others about our wonderful world of nature.

A past NANPA president, Jim is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer and nature photography instructor for Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son, Carson. Jim was a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Jim’s website is; his blog,; and he’s on Facebook.

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