When a Telephoto Lens Is Better Than a Wide-Angle Lens for Landscape Photography

Wide-angle lenses are often considered the go-to lens for landscape photography; however, sometimes they are also useless, and the telephoto lens is the one to use.

Two important skills when you do landscape photography is, obviously to recognize the good photo, but equally as important, is it to adjust to the conditions. Sometimes you might have an idea for a photo that requires a wide-angle lens but if the desired light does not manifest, or the light behaves differently than what you expected, adapting is necessary to benefit from the conditions you are given. Adapting to the changing environment and light could be changing settings, position, perspective, or lens.

In the above video, I document two photography sessions, where I set out to get a specific wide-angle photo, however, it did not go as I hoped for. The light and conditions were fantastic but they simply did not fit what I could catch with my wide-angle lens.

Perspective Compression

In the first session, I wanted a wide-angle photo of a lone tree on the side of the road. The sky was vibrant with colors and the clouds looked pretty good… near the horizon. The wide-angle lens was a terrible choice for the conditions I was given as it included way too much of the sky and the foreground was arguably a bit boring and messy.

Shot at 12mm

Instead of waiting around and hoping for something to happen, I adapted to the conditions. By moving about 50 meters back and using a longer focal length, I could exclude both the boring foreground, the part of the sky I did not need, and fill the frame with the flaming colors of the clouds closer to the horizon, all the while controlling the proportions of the tree in the photo. This technique is called “perspective compression.” By moving back, you change your perspective with the result of the tree looking smaller relative to the background, and by using a longer focal length you can crop the field of view and only include what you want to have within the frame.

Shot at 135mm

Reach

In the second session, I went to a hill I have visited many times during my life. I did get a good wide-angle lens photo, but it was when the unexpected atmospheric conditions happened after sunset it became really fun. It had rained most of the day and fog started to materialize in the surrounding forests. With this evaporation the many, many layers of the forests became visible. I have never really seen such a phenomenon in Denmark, but it reminded me very much of the Smoky Mountains in the US or somewhere more known for landscape photography.

The wide-angle lens did not work for this kind of photography, as I really needed the reach of the longer focal lengths to catch all the layers of the forests. Since I had somewhat of a distance between the forests and myself, you could also argue that perspective compression was at play here.

The lesson is; had I stuck to my initial plan of getting the wide-angle photo and had not brought the long lens I would not have got these other photos.

Shot at 348mm

I got some of my all-time favorite high contrast black and white photos from this session and in the above video, I show how I caught them and talk about the settings.

Have you benefited from bringing a telephoto lens to a shoot, where you only expected to use a wide-angle lens? Let me hear below.

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28 Comments

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Splendid work as always my friend!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks a lot, Mikkel! I always appreciate the kind words :)

Aritz Atela's picture

Always instructing and inspiring. Great work Mads!!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks, Aritz! I hope you got some inspiration :)

Ciaran McGrenera's picture

Makes perfect sense Mads- good article!

Tor-Ivar Næss's picture

Always fascinating to play with perspectives 😀

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

It is! I bet you can some crazy stuff in northern Norway :)

Kai Hornung's picture

Always worth reading

Sapna Reddy's picture

Very well articulated Mads. Kudos 😊

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you, Sapna. Means a lot :)

Bill Peppas's picture

I always carry most of my equipment with me.
A huge load, but always worth carrying as you never know what you'll miss if you need something that's not with you at the time.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Exactly, it can get a bit heavy, but usually worth it :)

Hans Gunnar Aslaksen's picture

As always; a lot to learn 👌🏻

Jose Luis Cantabrana's picture

Amazing video Mads, you face during that moment up the hill with the foggy conditions is incredible. You were amazed mate!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you, Jose! It was one of those fantastic moments for sure!

W Mitty's picture

Very nice video, and beautiful photographs. This is something that I am trying to be able to recognize while I am on location. I often find myself processing a photo and realizing that it is mediocre, and then with a crop in to a smaller area it becomes a much better photo. Unfortunately, I am left with a lower resolution image - if only I had thought to use the telephoto while taking it. Thanks for the reminder.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

You're welcome, it happens to me too, often, so don't let it bug you too much ;)

W Mitty's picture

Mads, I have to say that I very much appreciate the gentle dignity of your videos. The sheer joy and sense of wanderlust is so refreshing. The welcoming and inclusive touch of your videos always bring respectful, informative and supportive comments. It is disheartening that far too many of the other videos on fstoppers generate comment trails of sniping, argument, disrespect and anger. But, it gives me comfort that those who post reviews to your videos always are supportive and provide constructive feedback - almost never a negative comment. It is nice to see a space in which photographers actually seem to enjoy each other. I think you deserve a great deal of credit for creating a nice atmosphere because the response to the videos is a direct reflection of your tone and approach. If I were in Denmark, I would buy you a beer and an Akvavit!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Haha thanks a lot, I'll stick to the beer, not a fan of snaps ;)
But it's very nice of you to say this. I generally get very positive feedback and I really appreciate it. There are few negative comments from time to time, but luckily they're so outrageously stupid and over-the-top it is easy to laugh at them and just block the user for trolling :)

Steve Powell's picture

Putting the tree in the middle violates the rule of thirds law. Not to mention bad framing. Having said that, I use a 18-400mm lens. The best of both worlds.

Bobby Z's picture

Agree with what you are saying. I just bought Tamron 28-200mm for this reason.

tim Matthews's picture

what you felt at the top of the hill - the light coming good, photo opportunities appearing in every direction, immersion in the landscape - that's exactly why I get up early, stay out late, get in to rediculous spots, just for that feeling

Jeff Heinaman's picture

Love your videos and enthusiasm Mads! Thank you for sharing your love and expertise of photography.