The Telephoto – My favourite lens for Landscape Photography!
You pulled yourself out of bed well before the crack of dawn and braved the cold, damp weather in the hope of catching that beautiful light. You are duly rewarded. It is a glorious sunrise, the sun breaks through clouds and the distant mountains are painted in warm, intense light, all of it beautifully reflected in the calm waters of the lake that stretches before you. It is only natural to pull out that wide angle lens and capture it all, isn’t it?
This is exactly what I used to do when I started out on my photographic journey. To me it was all about wide angle lenses and capturing the drama – from foreground to background. Until I discovered the telephoto lens, and I never looked back. It has become my favourite lens and it is what I reach out to first when I photograph landscapes. I hope the 3 examples below give you an idea why:
1) Capture Distant Worlds There is infinite beauty and grandeur in the peaks – a whole world waiting to be discovered. A telephoto ( 70 mm up to 400 mm) is the perfect lens for this.
A moment of unforgettable drama and beauty, which appeared ever so fleetingly at the very peak of Paine Grande, the highest mountain in Chile’s Torres del Paine national park. This is one of the many areas we will visit again during our 2022 “Patagonia-Wilderness Untamed!” photography workshop. My workshop participants and I took a boat ride to photograph beautiful Glacier Grey in the early morning light. It turned out to be a windy, stormy day and when we ventured out on the deck of the moving boat, we were be buffeted by winds and pelted by sleet and rain. It was very tempting to remain in the boat, and enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate but, venturing out there, no matter how bad the weather, can pay off greatly. When photographing mountains, one should never forget the infinite photographic possibilities seemingly hidden in the peaks and the mountain sides. It is not all about wide angle perspectives, with an interesting foreground element, such as reflections on a lake or an intriguing rock formation, and the mountains in the background. Sure, great images can be captured this way, but if that is the only thing you do, you will miss out greatly. The telephoto lens is extremely powerful for finding and capturing the immense drama and beauty that plays out high above. Canon 5D III, 150 mm, f/8, ISO 800, 1/1000 s, hand held.
2) Convey a Sense of Scale The telephoto lens is perfect for conveying the grandeur of towering mountains, especially when you include smaller elements in the foreground.
The awe inspring Grundtvigskirken peak dwarfs a giant ice berg, at least 20 m high, at its base. During our voyage through the unforgettable O-fjord in Greenland’s Scoresby Sund, we were bombarded with one breathtaking view after the other. It was one of the most memorable days in my life, an absolute privilege to have been able to witness it. When we came upon this scene, I knew that it would be best captured with a telephoto lens. The telephoto compresses horizontal distances and accentuates differences in vertical distance, so that a mountain in front of a smaller object will appear especially tall. Canon 5D III, 100 mm, f/8, ISO 800, 1/1000 s, hand held.
3) Isolate Elements The telephoto is the perfect lens for isolating elements in your composition, to exclude all the other objects and features that do not contribute to the story you want to tell.
When photographing dunes, the magic happens at the base, where textures, shapes and patterns can play together in the most compelling manner. I used a telephoto lens to capture the base of this particular red dune, which forms part of the world famous Sossusvlei region in Namibia, home to some of the world’s highest and most beautiful dunes. This is an an area we visit during our annual “Surreal Namibia” photography workshop. A telephoto lens is particularly well suited for capturing scenes such as this, since it compresses the separation of elements, eliminates a sense of depth, and thereby allows their shapes, patterns and textures to interact most effectively. This was also the case here, with the interplay of the sharp ridge line of the dune, the light and ripples on the side of the dune and the trees at its base. I have always been amazed by these trees, since the many times I have revisited this area over the years, they never are swallowed by the enormous dune towering right above them. Canon 5D III, 280 mm, f/11, ISO 500, 1/320 s.
I hope you found these few tips on when and why to use your telephoto lens for landscape photography useful. It will open a new world to you and I hope it will give you as much joy as it does me!
For a considerably more detailed treatment of composition, please have a look at our in depth e-book which discusses the art of composition and the principles of aesthetics. In particular, I explain the psychology behind aesthetics and image design, also known as visual thinking, which will enable and empower you to express your photographic vision powerfully and effectively.
Using your telephoto to convey a sense of scale
15 Tips for Stunning Mountain Photographs
Effective Composition Tips
The Beauty in Simplicity
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