In my complete portfolio I have just over 3,000 images. Of them, 1,800 were shot with a wide-angle lens between 16 – 24mm. Like most Landscape photographers, a wide-angle lens is my weapon of choice. I love the look of it, I love shooting big sky.
But, the other side is, just over 500 images were shot with a 70-200mm Telephoto zoom. There is a place for a telephoto lens in the landscape photographer’s bag.
So why do we choose different lenses and what are some of the reason and difficulties using a telephoto lens for Landscapes.
We choose lenses of different focal lengths for two primary reasons: Magnification – We want to frame our subject in a certain way in the image and we use different focal length to put that subject at the size in the frame we desire. Secondly, Perspective: What else do we want to present in that image around our subject, what is the field of view we want.
So the first reason we may use a telephoto lens, magnification. We simply may not be able to get close enough to our subject because of physical things in our way, Water, a Canyon even sometimes a fence. In the image of Half Dome iuYosemite National Park, the distance from Glacier Point, where I shot from, to Half Dome is roughly 2 miles away with the valley floor between us. So a telephoto lens was a necessity.
Even if I were to walk right to the base of Half Dome and tried to use a wide-angle lens, I would not have had the same Perspective I had shooting level to it and from a distance.
And sometimes we use perspective to draw the distance in as in this shot from Joshua Tree where I framed the distant outcropping with close by rocks but also, with Perspective Compression of that 70mm lens, brought the distance outcroppings in closer than if I would have shot the same scene with a 17mm lens, even though I was physically able to get closer to the framing rocks.
The two main things we need to worry about when shooting with a telephoto lens are: Depth of Field and Camera shake.
Usually when shooting landscapes, we want a very deep Depth of Field (DOF), hopefully from our subject all the way to infinity. When shooting with a wide-angle lens that pretty easy since a wide angle lens shot at f/16 will have pretty much infinite DOF as long as our subject is two feet or more away (Hyper-Focal Distance) There really isn’t much influence by the other two factors for DOF, Distance to subject and Focal length.
All that changes when using a Telephoto lens since those other two factors definitely come into play. Since the Hyper-focal distance of a 200 lens at F/16 is 274’ if you have foreground subject closer than that, regardless of your aperture you will not have an infinite DOF as we can see in the image of the Bird at theSalton Sea. Now that may be OK and may be the desired effect.
In fact I shot it at f/4 because I wanted a diffused background. But it is something you need to be aware of and a DOF calculator may be a great asset (get one as an app on your smart-phone). And conversely, if you are shooting something really at a distance, say ¼ mile or more away, then, even aperture doesn’t matter and you will have infinite DOF shooting wide open (focused at infinity)
We also need to be aware of camera shake especially if you are hand holding your camera. Now the usual rule of thumb is shoot at a shutter speed of 1/focal length. So for a 200mm lens 1/200 is the minimum shutter speed. If we are shooting a fairly close object and we have 1/8” of movement at the end of our 12” lens, at 8 feet that’s only an inch of movement and we can stop that fairly easily with 1/200, But now take that 1/8” movement per foot and put that into our shot of Half dome 2 miles away, That’s over 100” of movement so it would be advised, if hand held, to shoot at a higher shutter speed and because of that, probably a higher ISO.
So I hope you will take some time and break the stereotype of how a landscape needs to be shot. Sometimes I will even challenge myself and do a photo-walk only with a telephoto lens to just …See things differently as I did just yesterday.