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Landscape Photography Using Telephoto Lenses

Landscape Photography Using Telephoto Lenses


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We are used to thinking that you need a wideangle lens for landscape photography. However it is also worth trying other focal lengths for different effects. Landscape photography using telephoto lenses can create a different feel, compressing the perspective instead of stretching it.

For example, in these two versions of a landscape with a double rainbow you can see that the first version looks a lot flatter than the second. This is because it was taken at 50mm, whereas the wider one was taken at 27mm (both on cropped sensor cameras). The wider lens stretches out the scene before us, giving a greater sense of depth. The mid-range telephoto lens squashes the foreground and background to make them look closer together. This is of course just an optical illusion – they aren’t really moving at all. It is just about how we perceive depth relative to the focal length used.

The flattened perspective can be very useful for mountainous or hilly areas where you want to give a feeling of a lot of undulations close together rather than spread out. For example, take a look at the image below with the road leading towards the mountains. The mountains were still miles off, yet the image gives you the feeling that everything is quite close. If a wideangle lens had been used here then the mountains would have come out rather small. If we’d gone closer so that the mountains were bigger in the frame and still used a wideangle lens then it would have exaggerated the size of the road or whatever else was in the foreground. Telephoto lenses help us to get round that effect when we want to.

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Sometimes you may want to use a telephoto to pick out details from a landscape from afar:

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The image of the white house above was taken at 200mm. This is a far cry from the “usual” focal lengths of around 10-24mm we get used to seeing for most landscape photography. With a wideangle lens we would have a photo that situated the house on a grassy hillside within a sprawling landscape. Using the telephoto lens has enabled the context to be shown differently. It is now clear to see that the house sits in a very hilly region with hills receding into the distance. Indeed, we can see that it has a potentially good vantage point and we might wonder what the view is like from the house. Depending on what effect we are after dictates which lens will be more effective. There is no one single “right” answer.

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In an earlier blog post we looked at the effect of different focal lengths on portrait photography. We saw there that the lens you use is all about making creative decisions. This applies similarly to landscape photography. Try not to think of wideangle or ultrawide lenses as “landscape lenses”. Similarly, try not to think of telephoto lenses as “portrait lenses”. Instead, learn the effect that each can produce and how that can be used creatively for any type of photography.

Some natural phenomena look very different from a long way away. Normally it isn’t much fun taking photos in the rain. However, when you can see it falling in the distance it can create not only interesting light but also add texture to the image. This can be brought out even more in editing to give you images such as these:

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So, next time you are planning a landscape photography trip, why not consider packing your telephoto? Maybe plan in advance what kind of images you might be able to create. Or, see what inspiration you can find when you arrive. Landscape photography using telephoto lenses is simply another creative tool to enjoy and to enhance your portfolio with. Why not give it a go?

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© Joe Lenton, March 2017

Images illustrating landscape photography using telephoto lenses on this page were taken on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. If you would like to see more of Joe’s images from that trip then you may enjoy the YouTube video of Isle of Skye landscape images set to music by Dave Brons.





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