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Tips for Shooting Landscapes with a Telephoto Lens

Landscape photography is often synonymous with wide-angle lenses, strategically placed foreground elements and all encompassing vistas that stretch from the very near to the very far.  There is no doubt that using that approach can create wonderful images that lead the viewer through a grand landscape however there is also merit in taking a different approach and using a telephoto lens.

Telephoto Landscape - Rolling Farmland

This rolling farmland was isolated using a focal length equivalent to 280mm, f/13, 1/200s, ISO 200, using a tripod

Often, when photographing a landscape, there is a particular element of the scene that has caught your eye and made you want to capture the image.  With a telephoto lens, it is possible to isolate that key element and bring it to the fore of the composition, rather than let it get lost amongst the other distractions introduced when shooting with a wide angle.  You will find that a telephoto lens will also compress the perspective of the landscape, brining distant objects much closer, giving a different sense of scale to when using a wide-angle lens.

The approach taken to shoot landscapes with a telephoto lens is similar to when using a wide-angle lens, though there are some additional considerations.  Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

1. Composition: Look for a strong feature of the landscape and try to isolate it within the frame, leaving out unnecessary elements that detract from the composition, for example, the sky – we often feel the need to include the sky within landscape images, however if it doesn’t add significant interest, or would detract from the main element, why not leave it out?

2. Sturdy support: You will want to use a sturdy tripod to ensure you can shoot without suffering from camera shake.  Telephoto lenses are very sensitive to the slightest movement so a solid support is key to capturing sharp images.  If shooting handheld, a good rule of thumb is to aim for a shutter speed quicker than ‘1/focal length’ to avoid camera shake however depending on the available light that is not always possible, hence the recommendation for a tripod.

3. Camera shake: Utilise ‘mirror lock-up’ or a remote shutter release (even both) to further reduce the chances of vibrations.  When the shutter is pressed, the movement of the mirror can introduce vibrations that can cause loss of sharpness, so the ‘mirror lock-up’ feature (found within the menus of most DSLRs) introduces a small delay between lifting the mirror and opening the shutter.

4. Image Stabilisation: Switch off any image stabilisation features on the lens or within the camera body.  That feature that you rely on when shooting handheld can actually introduce camera shake if left on when your camera is mounted on a tripod, and when using a telephoto lens, those movements will be exaggerated and result in a softer image.

Telephoto Landscapes - Tuscan Sunset

A Tuscan landscape captured using a focal length equivalent to 120 mm

5. Aperture selection: Be aware of the optimum aperture required to capture the scene in sharp focus.  When the subject is distant, a large depth of field can be easily achieved (even with a telephoto lens) so consider using apertures within the ‘sweet spot’ of your lens (typically f/8 to f/11).

6. Filters: If you do chose to incorporate the sky within a telephoto landscape you may find that the dynamic range of the scene is greater than your camera can capture in one shot.  Typically, you may use graduated neutral density filters to overcome this, however it is more than likely that the diameter of your wide-angle lens will differ to your telephoto lens, meaning you may not have the appropriate filter ring size to use with your telephoto lens.  Adapter rings are fairly cheap to buy and keep in your camera bag just in case, otherwise think about capturing bracketed exposures (exposed correctly for the sky and land) in order to blend them together later on.

Telephoto Landscapes - Panorama

A panorama stitched from 7 images taken at a focal length equivalent to 100 mm.

7. Panoramas: Telephotos lenses are great for capturing panoramas as there is very little distortion due to focal length.  This means you can zoom in even further on a feature within the landscape and capture a number of images to stitch together into one panoramic image (even though the final field of view may not actually be that wide).

Seeing compositions that work with a telephoto lens may be challenging initially, however it won’t be long before you start isolating elements of the landscape in your minds eye.  A good exercise is to go out and challenge yourself to shoot landscapes with only your telephoto lens.  You will find that the change of focal length may be refreshing as even local landscapes can be transformed to something unfamiliar when seen through a telephoto lens.

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Elliot Hook
Elliot Hook

is a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Hertfordshire, UK. Elliot loves being outdoors with his camera, and is always looking to improve his own photography and share what he has learnt with others.

Elliot also can be found at his website, on Twitter, Flickr and 500px.

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