Telephoto Lens

Image: Bureau of Land Management / CC BY 2.0

When you’re heading out to capture some landscapes, you probably reach for your wide angle lens.

But what if you were to use a telephoto instead?

Wide angles are the go-to lens of choice for most landscape photographers –and for good reason. These lenses tend to accentuate the sense of distance and scale in an image, emphasizing the space between the foreground and the background, as well as the size difference between objects that are close –and far away.

But just because wide angles can be great, doesn’t mean that you’ll want to overlook the value of a telephoto.

Unlike wide angles, telephotos cause foreground and background objects to appear similar in size, minimizing the sense of distance in an image. Because of this compression effect, these lenses are great for situations where you want all of the elements in an image to appear to be at a similar distance –rather than near –and farther away. Additionally, telephotos are great for those times where you want to get up close to something that’s far away, making them ideal for situations where you want to “reach out into the distance” and capture a specific piece of the setting.

Using a telephoto allows you to capture a significantly different type of photograph, but it’s a fascinating difference, and one that’s worth exploring. If you’re curious about shooting landscapes with a telephoto, here are some tips to help you get the most out of this type of lens.

Related reading: Reviews of the Best Telephoto Lenses for Canon DSLRs and Reviews of the Best Telephoto Lenses for Nikon DSLRs.

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Isolate Your Subject

While a wide angle is great for those times where you want to create a picture with lots of foreground, if you want the focus to be on a point in the distance, a telephoto is your best option. With a wide angle, it’s easy for distant subjects to be lost in a composition, but a telephoto allows you to isolate a distant subject or focal point. This is perfect for capturing a sailboat at sea, for example, or a house in the distance.


Image: Bureau of Land Management / CC BY 2.0

Simplify Your Composition

Telephotos are great for those times where you have a busy foreground that you’d rather leave out of the image. For instance, if you’re standing at a vantage point overlooking a town, and you’d rather just capture the mountain in the distance, using a telephoto will allow you to bypass the clutter in the foreground to focus on the mountain instead, allowing you to simplify your compositions.


Image: Jereme Rauckman / CC BY 2.0

Capture the Light

Landscapes that are taken during flat lighting conditions tend to look dull and uninspiring. But when the lighting’s at its best, telephotos are a great choice. These lenses are great for emphasizing particles that are in the air –such as mist, haze, and dust. They’re also ideal for drawing out one section of the sky –such as clouds or mist, or capturing a part of the land where the light is especially beautiful, allowing you to make it the focal point of the image.

Capture the Light

Image: Yeti-legs / CC BY 2.0

Compress the Elements in a Scene

Telephotos are great for compressing elements in a scene, that is, making distant and near objects appear closer together. This is perfect for those times where you want the elements that are farther away to appear to be a similar size to objects in the foreground, rather than small, and distant. This is especially ideal if your main point of interest –such as a bridge or boat, would look better if a distant mountain, hill, or other element were pulled in a bit closer.


Image: Peter Stevens / CC BY 2.0

Look for Patterns

Since a telephoto makes it easier to simplify your landscape compositions, you can use it for situations where you want to cut through the details and focus in on a specific focal point. This makes it ideal for photographing patterns, shapes, and textures found in nature, for example –ocean waves, ripples in the sand, or a series of trees in a forest.


Image: Daniel Oines / CC BY 2.0

Create Panoramas

Telephotos can be great for creating panoramas. With telephotos there’s very little image distortion, which means that you can zoom in on aspects of the landscape that you’d like to capture, and photograph a series of images that you can stitch together in post processing later on.

→ Related reading: Guide to Shooting Panoramics


Image: Stephen Bowler / CC BY 2.0

Camera Tips for Using a Telephoto

1. Stabilize Your Camera

You’ll want to take special care to steady your camera when using a telephoto. Since these photos contain a great deal of detail, even the slightest movement can cause the image to be off. Be sure to use a tripod to stabilize the camera, and make sure you switch off any image stabilization features. While these settings work great when holding your camera by hand, when using a tripod, they can cause the camera to shake.

→ Related reading: 11 Steps to Tack Sharp Landscape Photos

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2. Consider Depth of Field

While most landscapes call for narrow apertures and a wide depth of field, sometimes it pays to open the aperture up and create some blur. When composing your shots, pay close attention to the subject, and determine whether the composition should be clear and sharp, or whether it would benefit from selective focus. A telephoto lens with a wide aperture makes selective background and foreground blur easy to do.

→ Related reading: Why Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode

3. Use Filters

When using a telephoto lens, there’s a chance that different parts of your image will require different exposures. For this reason, it’s a good idea to get some neutral density (ND) filters that will fit your lens –or, adapter rings so that your wide angle filters will fit your telephoto. Alternatively, you could also consider doing bracketed exposures; exposing the sky and the land separately, and them blending them together in post processing.

Which lens is best for landscape photography –a wide angle, or telephoto? The answer is: it depends on what you’re trying to capture. While wide angles are the go-to lens when you’re looking to create sweeping landscapes that feature lots of great foreground, telephotos are ideal for those times when you want to isolate a specific part of the landscape or bring a distant element forward. Being able to work with both lenses will open up your options, allowing you to capture some amazing landscape images –no matter what type of composition the setting calls for.

Related reading: The Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

Do you enjoy using a telephoto lens for landscape photography? Share your images –and tips with us in the comments!

Tips for Shooting Landscapes with a Telephoto Lens

Photo license link: CC BY 2.0

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