Telephoto lenses may not be the most popular landscape photography glass, but – when used correctly – they can produce consistently great results.
I do telephoto landscape photography all the time, and in this article, I share my five best reasons to use that long lens when shooting landscapes.
So if you’re ready to start capturing unique, original landscape shots, then let’s dive right in!
1. A telephoto lens helps eliminate clutter
Nearly every landscape in the world requires decluttering.
After all, most landscapes feature power lines, trailhead signs, dirt patches, dumpsters, and so much more – all of which distract the viewer from the main subject (i.e., the landscape itself!).
Now, when faced with a distraction-filled landscape, you can try adjusting your position and angle by getting down low, moving in close, shifting to the right or left, and so on.
But in certain situations, you won’t be able to move enough, change your angle enough, or get close enough. You might be standing on an overlook, you might be working from across a river, or you might be shooting from the edge of the off-limits property.
And when that happens, a telephoto lens will be insanely useful. With a 70-200mm lens, for instance, you can pick out the precise area of the landscape where all of the essential elements come together. Then you can zoom in until everything else is eliminated.
That’s how I was able to capture this next shot, which features a mountain-framed castle and pretty much nothing else:
2. A telephoto lens will effectively highlight the main subject
The best landscape images tend to feature a single main subject, such as a mountain, a tree, a waterfall, or a building.
Now, if you do wide-angle landscape photography, you’ll need to adjust your composition so that the entire scene emphasizes that one main subject (using leading lines, frame-within-a-frame techniques, and more). And while such an approach can work, it’s difficult to get right.
On the other hand, a telephoto lens will let you hone in on the main subject so that the viewer knows exactly what the shot is about.
Of course, you can’t simply rely on a telephoto lens’s increased reach to get you a great landscape composition. The reach will help, yes, but you’ll need to pay attention to your compositional arrangement.
I recommend considering various compositional methods, such as the rule of thirds, layering, and strong foreground elements; these will complement your telephoto landscape approach.
I also encourage you to test out different vantage points. By getting up high, for instance, you can create uniquely graphic landscape shots – and by getting down low, you can shoot through flowers or grass to achieve a beautiful foreground wash (especially if you use a wide aperture!).
Here, I used a wide aperture to blur out the flowers and grasses in the foreground:
See how the beautiful flowers created a stunning yellow wash that helps frame the main subject (the church)?
3. A telephoto lens will help you reach new subjects
The longer your focal length, the more subjects you can find.
So while a wide-angle lens will generally confine you to broad, sweeping shots of the landscape, a telephoto lens will let you get close to individual landscape features, such as trees, clouds, and even wildlife.
For instance, imagine zooming in to photograph beautiful birds in their environment at 300mm. All of a sudden, you’re not just doing landscape photography; you’re combining colorful, eye-catching birds with a beautiful, scenic background. That’s the power of a telephoto lens!
Bear in mind, however, that the farther you zoom, the more difficult it becomes to take sharp shots. At 200mm, 300mm, and 400, even the slightest bit of camera shake will be magnified – so if possible, use a lens or camera (or both!) with built-in image stabilization. And bring along a tripod whenever it’s an option!
4. A telephoto lens provides a new perspective
If you look at the front cover of most photo magazines, you’ll see plenty of ultra-wide landscape shots, but you won’t see many telephoto images.
And yes, wide-angle landscape shots are breathtaking, especially when done well.
But sometimes it’s good to go against the grain. Sometimes it’s good to be original, to find a new perspective.
And that’s what telephoto landscape photography can offer. With a telephoto lens, you’ll get a different, more distant perspective, one that features (generally) a lot of compression and beautiful background blur. It may not be conventional, but it looks great!
Plus, in my view, scenes often come alive when shot at 100mm and beyond!
5. A telephoto lens will help you find patterns
As I mentioned in the previous tip, telephoto focal lengths go hand in hand with a compression effect, where objects look closer together all across the frame.
In most shots, a compression effect won’t be obvious.
But if you photograph a scene that’s full of patterns, the compression effect will push together lines and shapes to create a stunning result:
My recommendation? When you’re working with a telephoto lens, carefully scan the landscape through the camera viewfinder.
Thanks to the compression effect, patterns should stand out. As soon as you find one, photograph it! You can also incorporate these patterns into broader compositions; just zoom out slightly until you get an effect that you like.
By the way, patterns don’t always reveal themselves immediately. Take your time, compose carefully, and if you fail to find interesting patterns at first, don’t get frustrated. Just keep an eye out, and pretty soon, you’ll have a pattern (or three!) to shoot.
Telephoto landscape photography: final words
Well, there you have it:
Five reasons why you should shoot landscapes with a telephoto lens!
So grab your telephoto glass, head outside, and start practicing. You’re guaranteed to capture some amazing images!
Now over to you:
What subjects do you plan to photograph with your telephoto lens? Which lens will you use? Share your thoughts (and photos!) in the comments below.