While it may seem counterintuitive at first, the most sophisticated compositions are often the simplest. For this reason, ultra wide-angle lenses are not typically the ideal choice for outdoor images. By including too much information, you risk losing the subject to visual clutter. This creates a unique challenge for landscape photographers. While it’s tempting to include the vast expanse of a splendid horizon, a stronger image may only contain a small portion of it. This is where a telephoto zoom becomes an invaluable part of your kit.
1) Eliminate Clutter
It’s rare to come upon a landscape that doesn’t require decluttering. Common sights include power wires, fences, trailhead signs, unsightly dirt patches, and dumpsters. You can try to compose with your feet at first, but what about those situations when you can’t go any further? Where a wide angle lens falls short, a telephoto in the 70-300mm range will be very useful. With it, you can pick the precise area where all of the essential elements come together, and work to eliminate everything else.
2) Isolate Your Main Subject
A telephoto lens gives you the ability to pick a single part of a larger landscape and bring attention to it. Of course the increased reach isn’t the only part of the equation. You’ll still need to consider various methods of composition like the rule of thirds and a strong foreground element. Try shooting from a low vantage point through flowers or grasses for added depth. At wide apertures, foreground elements will become a nice wash of color that leads the eye to the subject.
3) Expand Your Horizons
The potential for subject matter multiples with a longer focal range. For instance, wildlife that would appear very small at 55mm become much more prominent at 420mm. No longer are you just shooting landscapes, but possibly wildlife as well. Just remember that good technique is essential for sharp telephoto images. Even the slightest bit of camera shake will be magnified if your shutter speed is too slow. When handheld, try to set an exposure no slower than 1/500th of a second. Image stabilized lenses and camera bodies do absolutely offer some flexibility here, but it’s best to err on the side of caution if your goal is to make tack-sharp enlargements.
4) A Different Perspective
If you look at the front cover of many photo magazines, they often encourage the use of ultra wide-angle lenses for landscapes. While it’s true that certain scenes absolutely come to life at 16mm, it’s the exception rather than the rule. For those looking to create a unique representation of a scene, a greater focal range can help you find it. At a time when it seems just about everyone has a camera, going beyond the reach of a normal kit lens can lead to extraordinary results.
5) Finding Patterns
By searching for organized patterns and repetition with a long lens, you can bring order to the world around you. This method of seeing will help to further develop your eye and strengthen your compositions. Rather than looking at the bigger picture, you’re choosing to focus on the smaller details. While this particular method of composition doesn’t require any overly technical methods, it does require a different approach. The trick is to zoom in and carefully scan the landscape through your viewfinder. Patterns don’t always reveal themselves right away, so take your time and compose carefully. You may be surprised at where you’ll find these unique photo opportunities, as they can appear just about anywhere.
All of these images were captured in Iceland, where landscapes often have an abundance of empty space. There were definitely times when the wide angle came in handy, in tight quarters, for example, or at the base of a waterfall. For just about everything else, a 40-150mm (effective 80-300mm) proved more effective. In fact, many of my favorites were shot at the long end of the lenses range. The next time you head out to photograph scenery, think long, and make the telephoto lens your first option.