Image Blending: The Landscape Photography Revolution

The shift between film and digital photography was among the most significant shifts in the history of photography and many new techniques emerged during the process. Everything from exposure, to the correct exposure to the capability to analyze photos instantly transformed the world of photography. Of all these developments but one has changed the landscape photography more than others change: the advent of digital image mixing.

At first look, image blending might appear to be an important development, but it has produced wide-ranging effects. Certain more difficult landscapes to photograph – high contrast lighting, for instance can now be photographed by photographers, opening the world of landscapes to capture. This to me is an one of the more significant changes throughout the development of photography for landscapes and is nearly as significant as the development in the field of film color.

Of of course, image mixing was possible in a certain degree during the darkroom era, particularly for panoramas and similar composites. But digital blending grew the capabilities of these techniques by a significant amount, completely changing their utility. However there were a few film photographers – namely, those with an access point to the darkroom or an advanced set of skills were able to blend images at all. Digital software significantly reduced prices for entry.

Incredibly, digital image blending was in use for a few years prior to the advent of digital cameras, as long as you had the ability the film to be scanned and edit it using the computer. Sure, the emergence in digital camera technology played an important factor to make digital post production a common concept, but it’s actually it was the application that has had the greatest impact. In this article, I’ll examine some of the most significant kinds of image blending, including HDR, focus stacking and panoramas. I will also discuss how they transformed the world of landscape photography in such a significant way.

Storm Clouds Over Farmland
NIKON D800E + 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/6, f/16.0

1. HDR

One of the most well-known examples of mixing images can be seen in HDR photography. As sloppy and draconian as it is, HDR – or any technique of mixing different exposures is among the most important innovations in the history of photography. There is no longer a limit by your camera’s capabilities to record information. Now you can take pictures even in the most extreme lighting conditions with any difficulty.

On the other side, it could be said it isn’t necessary to use HDR isn’t required for film photography because the highlight and shadow detail is much more than that we can get from the digital camera. In a certain degree, and particularly with certain films – this is certainly the case. If you shoot black and white negatives, as an example the range of the photos you take will be higher than what an electronic camera can achieve. But that’s not always the situation. When you film something similar to Velvia slide film you’ll have an extremely restricted dynamic range.

Therefore, for certain films, and also for digital photography, the capability to mix HDR images is vital. Even with filters and precise exposure methods, some images are difficult to capture in one frame. Exposure blend lets you capture the landscape in all lighting and, when you apply excellent post-processing methods the photos you take appear natural.

Volcanic Rock
NIKON D800E + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1/10, f/16.0

2. Focus Stacking

One post-processing technique almost impossible to duplicate using the darkroom, is focused stacking. It is, at its most basic level focus stacking allows you combine the most sharp portions of multiple photos, which results in an image that appears focused (for more details, check out our guide on how to focus stack). It’s an integral part of landscape photography and other types of photography like macro or architecture photography.

Crab at Sunrise
NIKON D7000 + 105mm f/2.8 @ 105mm, ISO 400, 1/320, f/13.0
This is not a landscape image Of course but this is actually a collection of seven photos that were taken at 13 fps. If it wasn’t for digital editing, the picture could not have been possible to make.

Focus stacking is possible to replicate slightly with film, however only if you own specific kinds of cameras. For instance tilt-shift lenses – similar to that of the Nikon 24mm f/3.5 lens can turn the focus area at an angle that is steep and render a scene within focus. This is also possible with view cameras, which can offer more motion that a tilt-shift camera.

But, as beneficial as this tool could be, it’s costly or difficult to utilize. Digital mixing can be achieved regardless of the equipment you own, and can extend the depth of field of a photo in the amount you want. In addition digital blending is better with macro-like scenes which tilt-shift lens as well as view cameras can’t always be captured effortlessly. Overall, the transition to digital processing brought about an important change in how photographers work using Depth of Field.

Mesa Rock Lines
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 1/3, f/16.0

3. Panoramas

Panoramas are a fascinating subject to research, especially because the idea wasn’t possible to make them during the golden age of film. For instance, certain camera models were specifically designed for panoramas like for instance the Fuji GX617 (which, however difficult to use in modern times it is still my favorite if-I-win-the-lottery camera). In the darkroom, as well it is feasible – though difficult – to create an image from a collection of negatives. With a panoramic camera, or a solid darkroom skill However, most photographers will simply set several prints next to each other to create the panorama. This method is still utilized to this day.

Of of course digital darkrooms offer an array of choices. It is extremely easy to combine multiple-row panoramas today using modern software. It could have been quite difficult to not mention, without computers. Digital processing takes only a few seconds to create a basic panorama, compared to the long time required when working in a darkroom.

Additionally, digital panoramas offer the advantage of being simple to edit. If there is a problem you are able to start over the number of times you want; it’s considerably easier to correct any mistakes that show up. While panoramas were once possible on film, and particularly with cameras that are specialized, like the GX617 the versatility of digital processing means you can create panoramas in a variety of conditions than previously feasible.

Dunes Panorama
NIKON D800E + 70-200mm f/4 @ 70mm, ISO 100, 1/4, f/22.0


For certain types that involve photography, emergence of digital image merging may not have been especially notable. Photographers of sports, for instance do not often blend images even in the present. For photographs of nature, image-blending is an incredible change in the capacity for photographers to show their artistic vision. No matter the complexity of an area the blending process allows you to get the image you desire.

In general, prior to the advent of post-processing software cameras for viewing were required if you wanted the greatest flexibility. The cameras could tilt their focus, make use of huge film (for creating a panoramic) as well as permit negatives that have a large dynamic range. This way an 8×10 or 4×5 camera could nearly duplicate the effects discussed in the article. However, even then these adjustments do not meet the flexibility of digital processing. Of course the view camera comes with some inherent limitations including its size, cost and the speed at which it can be used.

I believe that’s the reason digital post-production is so important, and even more than the digital cameras themselves. Any camera – be it either a point-and-shoot camera or a medium-format camera -can combine photographs together, and correct for the inherent weaknesses of photography based on physics. This lets you take pictures of any subject you wish regardless of how difficult it may be. The most basic of all it means that there are no areas off boundaries.