Using a telephoto lens for landscape photography may seem like an alien concept for some photographers, however it can lead to some great results and is an ideal way to create something a little different from the text book wide angle shot. A telephoto lens allows you concentrate and pick out just a small section of the landscape to photograph.
The photo above was taken with a 200mm telephoto lens which allowed me to create a composition that included just a small selection of the wider view. When I looked at the scene I was attracted to the dry stone walls and barns and how they appeared to intersect and divide the landscape, it would have been easy to take a wide angle photo including the sky and more of the fields and foreground however I felt by focusing in on a more densely packed area I was able to create a more powerful composition.
One nice feature when shooting with a telephoto lens is an effect called compressed perspective, this means that the scene appears flatter with a reduced depth of field than it does to the human eye. Objects in the distance appear closer in size to those more in the foreground, almost given the look of objects being stacked on top of each other, in the above photo the barns and dry stone walls appear closer together than they may have done to the eye.
The compressed perspective effect can be useful when shooting things like cliffs at the coast. The photo above was shot with 105mm lens and has made the 3 receding cliffs appear close together almost one in front of another. The final photo is flatter and more two dimensional than the straight forward view and again results in a more densely packed landscape photo.
Another great use for telephoto lenses is to create abstract photos, in the photo above I used a 70mm short telephoto lens to create a tight crop of a row of fishing boats in Japan. As with the other photos above I could have included much more of the surrounding landscape but by shooting with a telephoto lens I was able to pick out a dense crop that included just a selection of the fishing boats.
One of the key things to look for when shooting landscape with a telephoto lens is layers and patterns in the landscape. These may be man-made elements like the dry stone walls in the first photo or the fishing boats in the third photo or they may be natural layers like the cliffs in second shot. By adding multiple items that appear different shapes and sizes you can create an effect that looks like the elements are stacked closer together or even on top of each other.
And one final though, shooting with a telephoto lens can be a great idea if you are in a landscape saturated by tourists. Just look for relationships, layers or patters in distant elements and concentrate on those rather than waiting endlessly for tourists (especially those in bright coloured waterproofs) to remove themselves from your shot
When arriving at a new location it is always tempting to grab your wide angle lens and try and fit everything you can into a single frame. While this may work in some cases and don’t get me wrong I am a big fan of the wide angle lens, often a much stronger composition can be created by taking a step back and looking at the landscape in a different light.
What I would like you to do next time you are staring at a wonderful landscape, camera at the ready ask yourself what it is about the particular scene that appeals to you. It may be the flow of water between rocks, it may be the line of trees and the pattern it creates with the distant mountains. You can create a much stronger composition when you include fewer elements as opposed to shooting a wide angle shot that contains some interesting features but much of the frame is just empty space.
In the photo above I was exploring the landscape at Wain Wath Falls in Swaledale and wanted to create a composition different to the usual text book shot. I started asking myself what was it about the scene that was catching my attention and I kept coming back to the same two things, the first being the large stones almost like mill wheels and the second was the a small waterfall and how the water ran through the scene. I focused on creating a composition that included just these elements, I still used a wide angle lens (12mm on a Nikon D200, equivalent to 18mm in 35mm terms) but got low to the ground and created a shot very different from the standard wide angle view.
My aim with the composition was to remove many of the other distractions from the scene, I could have easily included the main waterfalls further up stream, more of the river, trees and even the sky – however I decided that a stronger composition was created by simply picking out the bits I liked.
In the above photo I went through my usual thought process looking around the scene and deciding which parts were appealing to me. In this case I was left with the distant headland, the contrast between the red sky and the blue water and the bold lines of the railings. I wasn’t too keen on the concrete promenade that ran quite a way in both directions so aimed to minimise this and just use it for a base of the photograph.
By using a telephoto lens I was able to compress the perspective and make the background appear larger in comparison to the foreground, this helped balance the dark railings with the headland. The angle of the railings, the headland and colours in the sky create a series of triangles and layers that add depth to the shot.
Sometimes it is all too easy to grab your camera and just capture the cliche postcard view of a particular location. While there may be nothing wrong with capturing the grand vista you do so knowing that many photographers have stood in the same spot and captured a very similar scene, yes there will be weather and seasonal variations however the content of the photograph will be almost identical.
Now I am not saying that you should stop taking this kind of shot however I would like you to give some thought to trying to capture the landscape in a different way to the majority of those who have been there before you. It is important to ask yourself what it is about a location that appeals to you and what is about that location that makes it special. One of the best ways I find to create a more personal view of a location is to narrow down your field of view away from the grand vista found on the touristy biscuit tins.
Swaledale is renowned for its beautiful landscape but what is it about this landscape that makes it unique? For me it is the combination of manmade elements such as dry stone walls and barns that intersect and divide up the landscape. In the photo above I used a telephoto lens to capture tight crop of the walls and barns without any sky but instantly summarising the Yorkshire Dales.
We can take this a step further and maybe focus on one of the barns alone, in the above photo I was drawn to the stonework and the positions of the window and door making a more abstract photo.
Maybe its a single element within the bigger picture that appeals, the door in the above photo is the same door as in the photo above that. It was the textures in the old woodwork that inspired me to try and create a abstract shot.
Sometime it is important to include more than one subject in your photograph as in the example above, Swaledale is not only characterised by its dry stone walls and stone barns but by the wild flower meadows that can be seen at the start of the summer. In this shot I wanted to include the rustic barns and in contrast to the brightly coloured wild flowers. I tried shots with both the flowers and barn in focus, just the flowers in focus but decided the barn sharp and the out of focus flowers worked better.
All these shots were taken in locations where it easy to capture the grand vista but with a little bit of extra thought you can capture the feel and emotion of a location. Some times this may involve just changing from a wide angle to a telephoto lens as in the first example and sometimes like the other three examples you have to get up close and personal with your subject.