Shooting landscapes with a telephoto lens

Posted by Mitchell Pearson-Goff on

My favourite lens is my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III. It is tack sharp and a sensational piece of glass for landscape photography. It is the lens that spends the most time on my camera without a doubt. I recently looked at my Lightroom catalog and my 70-200mm has only been used for about 12% of my current catalog of photos, whereas my 16-35mm has been used for 78% of my photos. Not only does this motivate me to use my 70-200mm more but also to write a blog post about shooting landscape photography with a telephoto lens. 
About 11 years ago when I started to develop my passion for landscape photography I was shooting with a Sigma 10-20mm and at the time I believed all my imagery had to be as wide as I could go. Generally, wide angle lenses are synonymous with landscape photography in order to capture as much of a scene as possible. Wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses range anywhere from 8mm through to 20mm focal length ranges. Wide angle lenses exaggerate the differences in both the size of and the distances between objects in a scene. However, when the scene you are confronted with is vast and somewhat overwhelming it is a telephoto lens that can be your best friend. Read on to find out why.
A telephoto lens provides the opportunity to isolate the part of the scene that would otherwise get lost if a wide angle lens was used. A telephoto lens is generally any lens with a focal length of 70mm or longer. Using a telephoto lens compresses the perspective bringing the distant objects closer. This is exceptionally useful when shooting a scene that has multiple layers such as rolling hills, mountain ranges, sand dunes, etc. So when do I tend to use a long lens or telephoto lens for landscape photography? There is no rule about this and it depends on what you are trying to achieve and the image you want to capture. Generally, I find I go for my telephoto lens in these situations:
When trying not to get lost in an expansive scene
This shot below was taken in the Waipara Valley in New Zealand. I was across the valley standing atop a hill looking across vineyards and watching the sun start to set. I wanted to capture the incredible light and cloud across the valley and the only way I was going to be able to achieve this was by using a telephoto lens, in this case, a 70-200mm. This lens allowed me to fill the frame with the distant subject and compress the scene. The shadow, cloud and light would have been lost and this scene within the scene would have been hardly noticeable with a wide angle lens.
Similarly, this shot taken in the Blue Mountains was part of a vast and expansive view of the rolling valleys. I wanted to simplify the scene and try to capture the light rays falling on the most distant section of the valley. 
The clouds are the hero of the scene
A shot taken with a wide angle lens requires a solid composition, strong foreground, leading lines and the right conditions to create a captivating shot. However, sometimes some or all of these may be absent so a difference of perspective that a telephoto lens provides may be what is needed to capture the best attributes of a landscape. In this image below this light was far out to sea and from land it was more or less a glow in a section of cloud that allowed the rising sun to break through. 
To create abstract images
I find a telephoto lens allows me to isolate natural detail and patterns from what would otherwise be a chaotic scene. Particularly when it comes to shooting the ocean, I will reach for my telephoto lens to seek out frames that I may otherwise overlook if I am just focusing on shooting from a wide angle perspective. 
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope it was helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me. If you would like to view more of my work please visit my website. I also offer custom prints and an online print store. If you have any suggestions for blog topics you would like covered or just want to say hi, then please get in touch :)


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