A telephoto lens is not often the go-to lens for landscape photography. That accolade is usually given to your wide angle lens. However, over the years, I have been using my telephoto more and more to create powerful landscape images.
Struggling with composition? Maybe try just a telephoto lens for a week. One of the main reason behind the power of a telephoto lens is its ability to simplify the composition.
I recently came back from running an fall workshop in the Lake District National Park, UK, and more than half the images that we worked on during the four days ended up being shot with a 70-200mm (full frame) or 50-140mm (APS-C) lens.
We got really lucky one morning and had a fantastic cloud inversion. The immediate reaction was to grab a wide lens and shoot the entire scene as per the image below.
However, when we took our time and started to look more closely at the emerging landscape, it was obvious that the more powerful compositions were actually "mini-scenes" below us. Ironically, these are often the ones that are easier to shoot than the wide angle ones with foreground, midground, and background. So, if you struggle with composition, then using a telephoto lens may just help you. I find that if I lose my creative flow, then moving back to using a longer lens helps inspire me.
Here are two telephoto images from the same stunning scene:
Here is another example of how a telephoto lens can be used to easily simplify the scene. By using a long lens, you often have fewer elements in a composition. In this case, the cloud formation and mountain create a strong juxtaposition and hence a powerful yet simple photograph.
Simplification of the composition is just one advantage of using a telephoto lens for landscape, though. In this video, I talk about four others, including creating a impression of compressed perspective, cutting out the sky and foreground for more flexibility, using telephoto DOF to your advantage, and using small pockets of light to create composition.
A telephoto lens needs to be treated carefully, and I recommend using these three fundamental principles when shooting with anything longer than 100mm:
1. Mount the telephoto on the tripod, not the camera.
2. Allow a longer timer for shake if using one to release the shutter.
3. Ensure you understand the impact of longer focal length on DOF. I suggest using an app like PhotoPills to calculate what will be in focus and what aperture to use.