The Power of Telephoto Lenses in Landscape Photography

When you think of landscape photography, does a wide angle lens come to mind as the go-to choice for capturing the vast beauty of nature?  While wide angle lenses undoubtedly excel at framing expansive vistas and foreground elements, the importance of having a telephoto lens in your bag for landscape photography should not be underestimated. Let's explore the often-overlooked role of telephoto lenses in landscape photography. You will discover how telephoto lenses can enhance your creative possibilities, capture stunning details, and unlock new perspectives in your landscape images.

The Versatility of Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses, characterized by their longer focal lengths (typically 85mm or greater on a full frame camera), offer us landscape photographers a range of creative benefits and applications. Contrary to the misconception that they are solely for close-up or wildlife photography, telephoto lenses can be indispensable tools for capturing breathtaking landscapes. Here are some of the reasons why telephoto lenses deserve a place in your camera bag.

Compressing and Isolating Elements

One of the key advantages of telephoto lenses is their ability to compress the elements within a landscape scene. This compression effect occurs when distant objects appear closer together, creating a sense of intimacy and harmony. By isolating specific elements, such as a distant mountain range or a solitary tree, telephoto lenses can emphasize their significance and aesthetic appeal and produce a totally different result to your shot than a wide angle can.

Capturing Distant Details

Telephoto lenses excel at capturing intricate details in the landscape that may be missed by wider focal lengths. Whether it's the texture of rock formations, the intricacies of foliage, or the subtle variations in light and shadow, telephoto lenses bring distant details into sharp focus, enriching the storytelling potential of your images. This can be very handy when you cannot get close to your intended subject or in fact can also prompt you to retreat back away from your current subject and use your telephoto to bring the subject to life in different ways.

Embracing Minimalism

Incorporating minimalism into landscape photography can yield powerful and evocative results. Telephoto lenses allow you to isolate and emphasize minimalistic elements within the landscape, creating compositions that are both serene and impactful. A lone tree sitting on the side of a hill in the distance is one example of where this lens can remove the clutter that may be before you and only focus on the tree instead. 

Framing Distant Landmarks

When photographing iconic landmarks or distant natural features, telephoto lenses enable you to fill the frame and create visually compelling compositions. This is particularly advantageous when capturing scenes from elevated viewpoints or distant vantage points. Cityscapes can be a perfect time to do this as you can remove many of the distractions that often occur in such an environment and catch your intended subject as it fills your frame. There is also the chance to capture some birds in your frame when you try this.

Exploring Abstract Landscapes

Telephoto lenses can uncover the abstract beauty hidden within landscapes. Isolating patterns, textures, and abstract forms within a larger scene can result in images that challenge the viewer's perception and evoke a sense of wonder. Waterfalls can be superb.

Enhancing Sunrise and Sunset Shots

During the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, telephoto lenses can bring distant subjects, such as the sun or colorful clouds, closer to the viewer. This magnification enhances the visual impact of these magical moments. 

Creating Mystery From the Location

You could be in a very popular location with many other people around you all taking photos of the same stunning scene, however when you break out your telephoto and pick little vignettes from the overall view, it isn't immediately apparent where the photo was taken from. This can be particularly useful when you want to grab a shot thats different to the norm, and even those stood beside you wont know where it was taken from  in some circumstances. 

Choosing the Right Telephoto Lens

Selecting the appropriate telephoto lens for landscape photography requires careful consideration of your specific needs and preferences. There are many fantastic lenses on the market and all can offer you different abilities and functions. Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing the right telephoto lens:

Focal Length

Telephoto lenses come in various focal lengths. Consider the scale of your landscape subjects and your intended compositions when choosing a focal length. I have a 70-200mm, plus I also have a Sigma 150-600mm. Both have their uses, and both offer me different types of shots depending on the scenario. For wildlife, having the longer reach will yield best results .


The maximum aperture of the lens is crucial, particularly for low-light conditions and creative depth of field control. Telephoto lenses with wider apertures (e.g., f/2.8) offer better low-light performance and background blur (bokeh) capabilities. From a landscape point of view, f/4 lenses will more than suffice. Also worth considering is the difference between aperture as the lens zooms. For example, my Sigma 150-600mm will offer me f/5 at 150mm, but will close to f/6.3 at 600mm. This can potentially restrict usages in low-light scenarios. For wildlife, you will need to have a fast shutter, so a wider aperture will be key.

Image Stabilization

Image stabilization can be advantageous, especially when shooting handheld with longer focal lengths. It helps reduce the effects of camera shake and ensures sharper images. Lots of telephoto lenses now come with built-in image stabilization, which can be a necessity when shooting landscapes. As you zoom in, remember that you are effectively looking at a smaller frame of the scene, so any slight movements will be exaggerated as far as the sensor is concerned. 

Weight and Portability

Consider the weight and portability of the lens, especially if you plan to hike or travel with it. Lighter lenses are more convenient for outdoor adventures. f/2.8 lenses are typically heavier, as you have more glass. There are some lenses that offer all of the above and still come in rather light in comparison. Best to look at the weight of the lens when doing your pre-buying research. 


Ensure that the telephoto lens is compatible with your camera body. Some lenses are designed for specific camera brands, so verify compatibility before making a purchase. it is possible to use different lenses from different manufacturers by using an adapter ring. For example, Canon EF lenses can be used on Sony mirrorless cameras and are the choice for many due to the quality of the glass. You can also use Canon EF lenses on the new RF mirrorless system by again using another adapter. Just ensure that when purchasing you get the right types of lens for your camera or adapter, whichever is applicable to you.

Quality and Budget

Invest in a high-quality telephoto lens from a reputable manufacturer. The optical quality of the lens, including sharpness, distortion control, and color rendition, greatly impacts the overall quality of your landscape images. Set a budget that aligns with your needs and expectations. Often, your glass will outlast your camera, so when you purchase your lenses, bear this in mind, as they can be expensive, but can also last you into many generations of your camera body. There are some lenses that were made in the 80s that still work for photographers to this day, so as a cost versus years of use proposition, it can work out well. The key is to invest wisely. There are many articles on Fstoppers that can assist you in deciding which lens fits your needs and your budget.

Telephoto Techniques for Landscape Photography

Once you've selected the right telephoto lens, it's time to explore techniques and tips that can help you maximize its potential in landscape photography.

Layered Composition

Leverage the compression effect of telephoto lenses to create layered compositions within the landscape. Hazy skies are fantastic to add depth and layering to your shots.

Use a Tripod

While telephoto lenses can be used handheld, using a tripod is advisable for longer focal lengths to ensure stability and sharpness. A stable tripod allows you to fine-tune your compositions and capture intricate details with precision. It also helps with fatigue, as you can leave it on the tripod and save those muscles form freezing up while waiting for the light or scene to change. 

Utilize Filters

Just like you may normally do with your wide angle lens, experiment with filters such as circular polarizers and neutral density (ND) filters to enhance your telephoto landscape shots. Polarizers reduce reflections and improve color saturation, while ND filters allow for longer exposures, enabling creative effects like smooth water or cloud movement.

Focus Stacking

Telephoto lenses are well-suited for focus stacking, a technique that combines multiple images with different focus points to achieve maximum depth of field. This is particularly useful when you want to capture both foreground and background elements in sharp focus. Should you have a secondary element in the scene, then it's good to remember to do this. 

Pay Attention to Light

As with any form of photography, lighting plays a crucial role in landscape photography with telephoto lenses. Observe how light interacts with distant subjects, and be prepared to adapt your compositions to changing lighting conditions. Always look around and be ready to fire off a shot of a far-off subject that may catch the light before you even feel its presence in your immediate area. 

Experiment With Different Perspectives

Explore various angles and perspectives to discover the most compelling compositions. This may involve moving closer to or farther away from your subject, changing your elevation, or adjusting the angle of view. The key for me with this is to have fun. Don't get bogged down on one composition. Look for something in the distance that may not have immediately caught your eye.

Mindful Composition

Practice mindful composition by paying attention to the placement of elements within the frame. Consider the rule of thirds, leading lines, and other compositional techniques that you would normally apply to your landscape shots to create visually pleasing and balanced compositions. Use clouds, mist, and atmosphere as key elements in your shots.


In the world of landscape photography, telephoto lenses often take a backseat to their wide angle counterparts. However, their unique capabilities should not be underestimated. Telephoto lenses allow you to compress, isolate, and capture distant details, unlocking a world of creative possibilities in landscape photography.

By choosing the right telephoto lens and mastering the techniques specific to these lenses, you can capture breathtaking landscapes that showcase the beauty and intricacies of nature. Whether you're framing distant mountains, exploring minimalistic compositions, or embracing the power of layered landscapes, telephoto lenses can elevate your landscape photography to new heights.

So, next time you venture into the great outdoors with your camera, don't forget to pack a telephoto lens in your bag. It might just be the key to capturing landscapes that leave a lasting impression and evoke a deep appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

Darren Spoonley's picture

Darren J. Spoonley, is an Ireland-based outdoor photographer, Podcaster, Videographer & Educator with a passion for capturing the beauty of our world.

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As someone who's visually impared I just love a long lens. Wide lenses tend to be harder for me because of all the details, focusing on one or two subjects in a photo makes it easier to see everything and for some reason that helps my inspiration a bunch!

That’s a great point ! Thanks for your comment