Wider was always better when I first began photographing landscapes. As an amateur photographer and outdoor enthusiast, all I wanted to do was cut down on weight in my pack when heading off on long, adventure-filled days in the mountains. But slowly my focus shifted from going out to hike, while maybe capturing beautiful moments, to fully focusing my time and attention on capturing beautiful landscapes. Hiking became the mode of transportation while photography became the reason for heading to the mountains.
I eventually realized I was only limiting my artistic vision by not bringing a telephoto lens with me to capture landscapes. Plus, more lenses, which means a heavier pack, means I'll have a better workout while hiking, right?
As soon as I started using my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 for landscape photography, the way I viewed the world completely changed. Rather than focus on and capture the grand, panoramic views of sunrise from a mountain's summit, I could now focus my attention solely on one or two peaks that contributed to the entire view. I began to take note of the way light fell on one specific mountain in the distance, rather than the way it fell on the entire valley, lake, or mountain range in front of me. Using the telephoto lens helped to drastically refine my compositions by making them less busy and more concise. As an example, compare the images below. Which landscape photographs do you think are stronger: the wide angle or the telephoto?
I like to think of the idea as capturing a group portrait versus a solo portrait. The group shot generally only shows everyone in the scene, but the solo portrait generally can adequately show specific emotions and physical features of one person. Like taking intimate portraits of one or two people, I could now do so with mountains and nature.
This is not to say I still don't use a wide-angle lens for my landscape photography. Each time I head outside is different; every situation and location has its own factors, which calls for its own photographic process. Sometimes the only way to adequately capture a scene is to photograph its entirety using a wide-angle lens. But more often than not, the first few images I capture in the field are with a telephoto lens.