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6 Reasons Why You Should Use a Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

February 21, 2018  •  14 Comments

6 Reasons Why You Should Use a Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography

 

When most people start out taking landscape photos, they think they need to get a wide angle lens in order to capture the whole landscape.  When I bought my first DSLR, I was one of those people.  I made sure I had a wide angle lens because I knew I mostly wanted to photograph landscapes from my adventures, and that’s what everyone told me I required to get the job done.  For YEARS I photographed landscapes from my adventures only using my 18-55mm kit lens.  Like most people, I would hike to the top of a mountain and want to photograph the entire grand vista in a single frame.  It wasn’t until years later, when I started to take photography more seriously and really started to look other photographers' work, I noticed most of the images I liked were taken with a telephoto lens.  Below are 6 reasons why you should also consider caring a telephoto lens in your bag:

 

1)  Perspective

What is perspective, and how does it work in photography?  First, objects will appear larger in the frame as you get closer to them, and foreground objects such as rocks, bushes, trees, etc. will appear larger in the frame than objects father away such as mountain ranges or sea stacks.  A wide angle lens has a wild angle of view, which exaggerates this effect. This means when you use a wide angle lens, the small rocks you are standing on or the tree you are standing beside will appear enormous while the mountain ranges will practically disappear in your image.  The below image was taken at 24mm, and since I was only a few feet away from the rocks on the right side of the frame, they look just as large if not bigger than 14,000' Longs Peak in the distance. A telephoto lens has a more narrow angle of view, which helps reduce this effect and compresses the foreground and background.  This compression helps make the background elements more prominent in the image.   

Sunrise at Bear LakeSunrise at Bear LakeSunrise at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

2) K.I.S.S.

Most successful landscape images are simple and have a clear subject.  When I am photographing landscape images, I try to remind myself of the acronym K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  Using a telephoto lens will help reduce the distractions of a grand vista by allowing you to pick out interesting details and subjects in the scene.  The below image was taken at 120mm, which helped me isolate and draw the viewer's interest to the below group of trees from the rest if the wide vista.  Using my telephoto lens also helped me fill the frame and show all of the different mountain layers.  The second image was taken from the same location at 20mm; the image is busy, and the mountains are less prominent.  

Little Pinnacles Fall SunsetLittle Pinnacles Fall SunsetLittle Pinnacles Outlook as a few rock that you can scramble up on top of to help get above some of the plants and trees for an unobstructed view to the West and Southwest. But the view from the base of the rocks is also outstanding. The rocks can easily be used as a foreground element to add some texture to your images. This view has so many mountain ranges and valleys which could be used to add layers and depth to your images. Little Pinnacles is an ideal location for photographing sunset because of the views to the West and Southwest.

Little Pinnacles SunsetLittle Pinnacles SunsetLittle Pinnacles Outlook as a few rock that you can scramble up on top of to help get above some of the plants and trees for an unobstructed view to the West and Southwest. But the view from the base of the rocks is also outstanding. The rocks can easily be used as a foreground element to add some texture to your images. This view has so many mountain ranges and valleys which could be used to add layers and depth to your images. Little Pinnacles is an ideal location for photographing sunset because of the views to the West and Southwest.

3) Composition

When I first arrive to a place I want to photograph, before I even get out my camera and set up my tripod, I look for a great composition while remembering K.I.S.S.  When I have a hard time finding a clear composition because everything is too busy, I pull out my camera and put on my telephoto lens.  A telephoto lens helps me to isolate and add prominence to the main subject while also adding layers (which adds depth), patterns, textures, etc. to the image.  A wide angle lens usually needs a strong foreground element like a rock, flowers, a tree, etc. for the image to work.  A telephoto lens will also help you exclude uninteresting foreground elements. The below image was taken at 105mm; this particular location has an outstanding but busy vista. I took out my telephoto lens, isolating this section of mountain ridges. By filling the frame with the mountains, it helped me add prominence to the mountain ridges, which helps show the viewer what is important in the frame.  For more photography composition techniques click here

Fall at The Point OverlookFall at The Point OverlookThe Point Overlook is just over 3,200 feet in elevation and has a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The proximity of the Point Overlook to the campgrounds at Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain mix with the outstanding view makes this a very popular spot in Shenandoah, but most people never leave the pull off. In the middle of the overlook is a break in the stone wall, which is the entrance to a trail that leads down to a small rocky cliff. It’s a short 0.1 mile hike to the rocks, but most people who stop at the overlook will never make the hike. This rocky cliff makes an ideal place to photograph the Point Overlook. The Point Overlook is located in an ideal place in the Central District of Shenandoah. The Blue Ridge Mountains widen allowing photographers the ability to capture multiple layers of the Blue Ridge Mountain ranges rather than just one or two ranges found at most other outlooks in Shenandoah. The exposed rock can also make a foreground element. I believe the best part of this view is to the northwest making it ideal to photograph during the late spring and summer around the summer solstice, June 21, when the sun sets in the Northwest. During this period, the sun will set directly behind multiple ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which will add depth to your photograph.

4) Blue Boring Skies

Clear, blue skies make for a great day of hiking and exploring, but they also make boring pictures. Usually, the best time to photograph landscapes is around sunrise and sunset.  If there are clouds in the sky during these times of day, they can reflect some light creating breathtaking views and photographs.  But what do you do if there are no clouds in the sky? Instead of filling 1/3 or ½ your frame with an empty blue sky, use your telephoto lens, and find some interesting details near the horizon.  As the sun nears the horizon, it usually creates some color in the sky just above the horizon, and a telephoto lens will help you fill part of the frame with this beautiful color.  Or you can find a composition that excludes the sky altogether while being able to take full advantage of that beautiful light.

Beauty Mountain TrailBeauty Mountain TrailThe New River Gorge in West Virginia is beautiful and full of great viewpoints but some of the best are along the Beauty Mountain Trail. This short but fun out and back hike has a new outlook every few hundred years that are great for watching the sun set. Rams HeadRams HeadThe New River Gorge in West Virginia is beautiful and full of great viewpoints but some of the best are along the Beauty Mountain Trail. This short but fun out and back hike has a new outlook every few hundred years that are great for watching the sun set.

5) No Foreground Interest 

Most wide angle landscape pictures work really well when there is a clear and strong foreground element like a rock, flowers, a tree, a lake, etc. When there isn’t a great foreground element that will add to the image, this is another great time to use a telephoto lens.  A telephoto lens will also help you exclude uninteresting foreground elements that will distract the viewer from the subject.  The below two images were taken on the same morning in the same location.  The first image was taken at 20mm, and the second was taken at 105mm.  There wasn't a strong foreground interest to help anchor the image, so I put on my telephoto lens and took the second image using the valleys as leading lines and filled the frame with the mountains.  

Sunrise at Sugarland OverlookSunrise at Sugarland OverlookThe Sugarland Overlook is located about a mile up from the ranger station and is on the righthand side of the road. Sugarland Overlook is easy to access and has a lot of parking spots for visitors to enjoy the amazing view. There is a small park fee to enter the park, but the views and hiking trails make it worth it. The overlook is large, which will allow photographers to spread out. Since it provides an outstanding northeast to east view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, it makes this location ideal to photograph the sun rising behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Outlook is named Sugarland because of the many sugar maple trees that are visible from the outlook. The view to the east has multiple valleys and mountains ridges, which will help add depth to your images. After photographing the sunset, make sure you check out some of the amazing trails in the park.

Sugarland OverllokSugarland OverllokThe Sugarland Overlook is located about a mile up from the ranger station and is on the righthand side of the road. Sugarland Overlook is easy to access and has a lot of parking spots for visitors to enjoy the amazing view. There is a small park fee to enter the park, but the views and hiking trails make it worth it. The overlook is large, which will allow photographers to spread out. Since it provides an outstanding northeast to east view of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, it makes this location ideal to photograph the sun rising behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Outlook is named Sugarland because of the many sugar maple trees that are visible from the outlook. The view to the east has multiple valleys and mountains ridges, which will help add depth to your images. After photographing the sunset, make sure you check out some of the amazing trails in the park.

6) Reduce Camera Shake

 When using your telephoto lens, any minute vibration will be magnified and cause your image to lose a sharp focus. To mitigate this, make sure you have a sturdy tripod, and use a cable release or your camera’s self timer. The below image was taken at 150mm, I used the above techniques to make sure this image was tack sharp.  

Yosemite FallsYosemite FallsYosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge

To keep building your photography knowledge and to keep from repeating the same tips over and over again, I also recommend you quickly read 7 Essential Landscape Photography Tips. This is full of great tips that will help take your photography to the next level, and both articles will also help you improve your landscape photographs.

Click here to lean more photography tips.


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