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Landscape Photography Using a Telephoto Lens

Landscape Photography Using a Telephoto Lens

Introduction

When going out to take landscape photography most photographers usually only take wide angle lenses. While most scenes require a wide angle lens you don’t always need a wide angle lens to take stunning landscape photos. You can get a very unique perspective when using a telephoto lens. You can bring distant subjects closer and shrink perspective. It can be good to start off using a wide angle lens and once you have taken a great shot switch to a telephoto lens and focus in on some details. 

The main reason for using a telephoto lens for landscape photography is to isolate certain elements of the scene. You can create a whole set of different images from the same scene. It can be anything from a specific mountain peak in a range of mountains or it can be a certain tree or plant you want to focus in on.

Mountain in distance
This photo was taken in July 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM on a tripod
Camera Settings: f/10, 1/400 seconds and ISO 200

What exactly is the definition of a telephoto lens?

The full frame equivalent of what a human sees through their eyes is equivalent to about a 43mm lens. Anything wider than 35mm is usually referred to as a wide angle lens. Anything greater than about 70mm is usually defined as a telephoto lens.

I mainly use my Canon 100-400mm L lens for telephoto landscape photos.

Mountain and Lake
This photo was taken in August 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 25-105mm f/4L IS USM Camera Settings: f/8.0, 1/125 seconds and ISO 100

Most of the Same Rules Apply

The same rules apply when using a telephoto lens versus using a wide angle lens in landscape photography. A tripod is important and as always remember to turn off optical stabilization when using a lens on a tripod. The optical stabilization (OS) could actually cause motion and decrease overall sharpness of the photo. It is really important to remember to support the heavy telephoto lens if using one. They usually come with a mount ring to attach the tripod in the lens. The heavy lens unsupported could damage the camera. 

Regarding the settings of the camera. A small aperture is good as it allows a lot of the scene in focus. Anything from f/8.0 and smaller would suffice. (NB, smaller aperture but larger f number). And if using a tripod choose the lowest ISO to increase the image quality. If not using a tripod remember to keep the shutterspeed high enough to avoid camera shake. Image stabilization will help a lot in this case. A rough rule to remember is to keep the shutterspeed equal to or greater than the focal length of the lens i.e. 200mm lens will need 1/200 second shutterspeed. Remember this is based on 35mm equivalent focal length. A 200mm on an Canon APS-C sized sensor with 1.6x crop factor would be 320mm equivalent and thus at least 1/320 second shutterspeed would be required.

Mountain with trees
This photo was taken in May 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
Camera Settings: f/6.3, 1/400 seconds and ISO 1000

Characteristic of Telephoto lenses

A telephoto lens is much more prone to camera shake than a wide angle lens. Using a sturdy tripod, mirror lockup and a cable release helps to solve this possible problem. As previously discussed optical stabilization is not a solution in this scenario is using a tripod. Unless you are not using a tripod using OS is a no brainer. That is what OS was made for, long telephoto lenses hand held.

A telephoto lens compresses the background and decreases depth of field. In order to get everything in focus you will require a larger aperture than with a wide angle lens. On the other hand you can create background blur to further isolate the subject. With photos taken with a telephoto lens the background seem closer to the subject than what it actually is. Sports photos is a good example of this principle.

Landscape scene with train passing through in the distance
This photo was taken in December 2014 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/8.0, 1/400 seconds and ISO 100

Perspective Change of the Image

The perspective is changed when using a telephoto lens to photograph a specific object. It is not as a result of the focal length that changes the perspective but rather the distance between the camera and the subject that causes this change is perspective. All the focal length really does is change the magnification and viewing angle. 

Using a longer focal length requires you to stand further away to capture the same subject and this causes a change in the perspective of the image which results in a change of the background. You can do a test to illustrate this. If you photograph a nearby tree and fill the frame with a wide angle lens and then switch to a telephoto lens (or zoom in) and stand further back to fill the frame again with the same tree you will notice the change in perspective and the change of the background.

Table Mountain with a Moon:

400mm:

Table Mountain with Moon

275mm:

Table Mountain with Moon

100mm:

Table Mountain with Moon
These photo’s were taken in June 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM on a monopod
Camera Settings: f/5.6, 1/640 seconds and ISO 100

Shooting During the Golden Hour

The best time to photograph a landscape is during the golden hour. This rule still applies even when using a telephoto lens. The golden hour is the time of day shortly after sunrise or before sunset. The light is usually softer and a slightly golden colour. It can make your photos look magical.

The colour temperature is slightly more yellow which could alter some scenes that have trees. Where the trees usually have a slightly more yellow colour as opposed to the green in midday. Mountains have great dimension during golden hour. 

The less difference between light and dark areas during this time of day make for a less contrasty photo. It is important to be patient and wait for golden hour. Next time you take landscape photos, make sure you do it during golden hour. I also like to wait for the sun to just set. Then the light is in some scenarios even better.

Mountain Peaks in Stellenbosch
This photo was taken in February 2014 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM on a monopod
Camera Settings: f/5.6, 1/250 seconds and ISO 200
Table Mountain after suset
This photo was taken in September 2014 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/4.0, 1/100 seconds and ISO 400
Mountain and Lake
This photo was taken in August 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/10.0, 1/125 seconds and ISO 100
Mountain and Lake
This photo was taken in August 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/11.0, 1/125 seconds and ISO 100
Mountain with Moonrise
This photo was taken in August 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/7.1, 1/125 seconds and ISO 160
Silhouette of a tree with sunset
This photo was taken in August 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/4.0, 1/500 seconds and ISO 125
Table Mountain after suset
This photo was taken in August 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/4.0, 1/100 seconds and ISO 100
Mountain and Lake
This photo was taken in August 2015 with a Canon 5D MkIII, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM
Camera Settings: f/11.0, 1/125 seconds and ISO 100
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