5 Ways a Telephoto Lens Can Improve Your Landscape Photography

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While it may seem counter-intuitive at first, the most sophisticated compositions are often the simplest. For this reason, ultra wide angle lenses are not typically the ideal choice for outdoor images. By including too much information, you risk losing the subject to visual clutter. This creates a unique challenge for landscape photography. While it’s tempting to include the vast expanse of a splendid horizon, a stronger image may only contain a small portion of it. This is where a telephoto lens becomes an invaluable part of your kit.

Here are five ways using a telephoto lens can help you do better landscape photography:

1) Eliminate Clutter

It’s rare to come upon a landscape that doesn’t require decluttering. Common sights include power wires, fences, trail head signs, unsightly dirt patches, and dumpsters. You can try to compose with your feet at first, but what about those situations when you can’t go any further?

Where a wide angle lens falls short, a telephoto in the 70-300mm range, will be very useful. With such a lens, you can pick the precise area where all of the essential elements come together, and work to eliminate everything else.

2) Isolate Your Main Subject

A telephoto lens gives you the ability to pick a single part of a larger landscape and bring attention to it. Of course the increased reach isn’t the only part of the equation. You’ll still need to consider various methods of composition, like the rule of thirds and a strong foreground element. Try shooting from a low vantage point, through flowers or grass for added depth. At wide apertures foreground elements will become a nice wash of color that lead the eye to the subject.

3) Expand Your Horizons

The potential for subject matter multiples with a longer focal range. For instance, wildlife that would appear very small at 55mm, become much more prominent at 420mm. No longer are you just shooting landscapes, but possibly wildlife as well. Just remember that good technique is essential for sharp telephoto images. Even the slightest bit of camera shake will be magnified if your shutter speed is too slow. When shooting hand-held, try to set an exposure no slower than 1/500th of a second. Image stabilized lenses and camera bodies absolutely offer some flexibility here, but it’s best to err on the side of caution if your goal is to make tack sharp enlargements.

4) A Different Perspective

If you look at the front cover of many photo magazines, they often encourage the use of ultra wide angle lenses for landscapes. While it’s true that certain scenes come to life at 16mm, it’s the exception rather than the rule. If you’re looking to create a unique representation of a scene, a greater focal range can help you find it. At a time when it seems just about everyone has a camera, going beyond the reach of a normal kit lens can lead to extraordinary results.

5) Finding Patterns

By searching for organized patterns and repetition with a long lens, you can bring order to the world around you. This method of seeing will help to further develop your eye and strengthen your compositions. Rather than looking at the bigger picture, you’re choosing to focus on the smaller details.

While this particular strategy of composition doesn’t require any overly technical methods, it does require a different approach. The trick is to zoom in and carefully scan the landscape through your viewfinder. Patterns don’t always reveal themselves right away, so take your time and compose carefully. You may be surprised at where you’ll find these unique photo opportunities as they can appear just about anywhere.

All of these images were captured in Iceland where landscapes often have an abundance of empty space. There were definitely times when the wide angle came in handy, in tight quarters for example, or at the base of a waterfall. For just about everything else, a 40-150mm (Olympus OMD EM1 with the 40-150mm f/2.8, effective 80-300mm) proved more effective. In fact, many of my favorites were shot at the long end of the lens’ range. The next time you head out to photograph scenery, think long, and make a telephoto lens your first option.


Here on dPS it is landscape week. You can see the previous ones listed below. Watch for a new article (or two) on landscape photography daily for the next week.

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Chris Corradino is the CEO and Head Instructor at Photo Mentor NYC, a personal mentoring service for photographers of all skill levels. For more info, visit christography.com.

  • Tim Lowe

    OK. I hear you. But, in my own work, I just don’t like the look. Too much compression of space. I’d rather use a shorter lens and just get closer. I’ve done comparisons and the flattening that comes with the longer lens just doesn’t do it for me.

  • Rob

    I like that ‘focus with your feet’ comment. I learned a long time ago that the best zoom lense was just walk to your subject.

  • walwit

    Agree

  • petervandever

    This is about the silliness thing I have read in the last year. There are a few times to pull out the 70-200mm but shooting between 10-14mm is the best option….. as far as declutter…. Photoshop is about to open its third decade.

  • Raffaele Canepa

    I find myself shooting landscape on telephoto (70-200) quite often on golf courses: compressing the planes gives you a better idea of the most faraway elements. To get a wider angle of view, I stitch multiple shots together.

  • Maria R

    I use Tamron 18-270mm on my Nikon. Works great!

  • It can be useful for certain kind of photographs, and I do used sometimes the telephoto to get a nice compression of the landscape. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e202f972bbc6cb430efa6ec77313a76b51ffea2569de828e758436fd319939e3.jpg

  • Manuel VĂ­ctor Herzog Rabasco

    Totally agree: Most of my landscape photo is made with 100-300 f4 or 80-200 f2.8.

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