• 4 reasons to use a telephoto lens in landscape photography

    When we talk about landscape photography, the first thing that comes to mind is the use of wide angle lenses. However, sometimes it is very interesting to take landscape photos with a telephoto lens. In this article we explain why it is necessary to use a telephoto lens in landscape photography.

    As we have just said, when we talk about landscape photography, we immediately think of wide-angle lenses. After all, we always want to include as much of the landscape as possible in our frame.

    I have already mentioned in several articles that there are few wide angle lenses that are of good quality and affordable. However, we can mention the 15 and 11 mm Irix. However, it is sometimes very interesting to take landscape pictures with a telephoto lens, whether with a short focal length of 70 mm or with a longer one such as 400 mm or more.

    In many situations, I sometimes change my wide angle lens to a telephoto lens or use a zoom lens to reach longer focal lengths. Landscape photos then have a special “extra” that you can’t get with a wide angle lens. There are many such situations, and sometimes you manage to combine important elements in one image.

    I have divided the article into 10 situations, although sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between them, but by identifying them one by one, it helps to understand them better. For example, abstraction is both a simplification or an isolation of a part of the landscape, but I have considered these situations as different. For example, when I use a telephoto lens to look for the best light, I compress the perspective and therefore simplify the landscape. But we will see these situations separately in order to differentiate them.
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    1 - Distant landscapes
    I’ll start with the most obvious situation, the one where the distant elements are really essential for the frame and where the use of a telephoto lens in landscape photography is obvious.

    In this photograph of the mills of Sanlúcar de Guadiana, located in western Andalusia (Spain), it was necessary to use a telephoto lens in landscape photography from the castle so that the mills become the main element of the photograph.

    It should be noted that the same landscape will look different depending on whether a wide angle or a telephoto lens is used. This photo of the port of Huelva, Andalusia, was taken at a focal length of 24 mm in order to highlight the sky, the clouds and the reflection of the water on the river. The skyline of Huelva, on the other hand, is reduced to a line of demarcation.

    So, to give the skyline more importance, we have to use the zoom. With this 24-70 mm lens, we have to shoot at the maximum focal length of 70 mm.

    As the city is at a distance, we must use the telephoto lens so that it becomes the main focus of our photo.

    Both photos are interesting, but if I had to choose one, I would choose the second one because it shows the buildings of the city.

    In this first situation, we have not isolated any element of the landscape. Some people would say that the city is highlighted in relation to the landscape, but in the end, the city was only brought closer in the photo because I was too far away when the photo was taken. In the next situation, we will study isolation or simplification.

    2- Playing with simplification and isolating elements
    One of the most frequent uses of the telephoto lens in landscape photography is to simplify and isolate elements for their interest and beauty in order to highlight them in our frame.

    Here is a photo of the river Tera in Zamora, Castilla y León (Spain), taken at a focal length of 24 mm. In this one we can see the whole landscape along the river perfectly.

    However, I think that here the river takes up too much space, occupying a large part of the photo. Although this stretch of water offers nice reflections, it does not add much value to the image.

    It is therefore important here to simplify the image in order to draw the viewer’s eye to a particular point. By using a telephoto lens in landscape photography and taking the picture vertically, I focus on the sinuosity of the left bank of the river, which offers a totally different landscape picture with a more interesting composition.

    Another similar, but even more obvious example is when shooting a sunset. Here I was under the spell of the colours of the sky once the sun had disappeared, at the time of the famous blue hour. I took my Irix 15mm as I wanted to capture a lot of the twilight in the sky.

    There are photographers with far more talent than me who would have realised, before taking the picture, that using the wide angle was not appropriate. When I analysed the image I took, I noticed that my foreground gave off no emotion and the blue sky also added nothing to my scene. However, if I had been a good photographer, I wouldn’t have these “wrong” pictures to write this article and explain the different situations. Of course, it is better to make mistakes and then learn from them.

    As you know, I’m one of those photographers who like to be well equipped when going out. So I put aside my Irix and took a 135mm f/2 fixed lens, a very bright lens. I refocused my photo on the two twin trees and the sky.

    Simplifying the landscape allowed me to discover a chair hanging over a clothesline in the distance, giving an original touch to the shot.

    I then decided to take the photo vertically to highlight the chair.

    I appreciate this simplification even more, as I gave more space to the coloured sky and zoomed in so that the tree on the right no longer appears in the photo.

    You can simplify the photo even more than that. Some photographers are able to simplify a photo and still create true works of art with touches of light in the background. I admit that I haven’t reached that level yet, but you have to stop applying these compositional techniques.

    I was asked to take a photo that reflected the beauty of the beaches of Huelva. To concentrate all the splendour of these beaches in one photo is quite easy, but to do it in a different way is another matter. For me, the fundamental characteristics of these beaches are their vastness, their tranquility, the fine sand and above all the light.

    To highlight this huge space, I used a wide-angle lens and chose a composition with lots of sand and bright sunlight. This fisherman, both quiet and happy, reflects the tranquility of these Andalusian beaches on the Atlantic coast.

    My friends liked this photo very much but they asked me for an even simpler shot, reflecting the well-being on these southern Spanish beaches. So I decided to put aside the wide angle lens and opt for a telephoto.

    As I walked along the beach, I looked for elements that could help me simplify my photo even more. I noticed a drop of foam on the golden sand. I took the picture.

    I really like the photo, but although the sand and the foam are highlighted, I added an element to the composition, some shells that I placed next to it to give a little marine touch to my shot.

    3 - Making abstractions
    The theme of abstractions is a situation derived from the previous one. If the previous situation was called “Simplification and isolation”, this one could be called “Simplification and abstraction”. To simplify, we will call this part “Making abstractions”.

    According to the dictionary definition, abstraction is the action of abstracting. Here is a more complete definition of the term:

    To separate by means of an intellectual operation a characteristic or quality in order to analyse them separately or to consider them as a pure essence or notion.

    I understand with this definition that abstraction is, in a photo, an element or a detail where we recognize little or nothing of the whole and where this element makes us think of a series of ideas totally different from the surroundings.

    For me, a photo with a single detail is not an abstraction. This notion goes even further, as it also gives this detail a special meaning.

    Here is an example to illustrate this notion with this photo entitled “À fleur de peau”. If you look closely at the picture, it is not just sand but ripples that remind you of the spots on a leopard’s skin or even wrinkles on the face.

    In order to obtain beautiful abstractions, one must first of all have a good imagination, but above all a great capacity for observation.

    In the photo below, taken in spring in Huelva, it looks as if the mountain is covered with snow. But if you pay more attention to this mountain, you will realise that it is not snow but a mountain of salt…

    Most of the time, this type of photography is done with macro lenses on flowers or insects, offering pictures with more impact. But sometimes it is difficult for the viewer to see the abstraction, even if you force your imagination.

    A photo of detail should not be confused with an abstraction, like this photo of a sundial.

    Or even with a repetitive photo of elements like these sunglasses.

    4. Integrating the sun and the moon into our landscapes
    When we want to take landscape photos with a wide-angle lens, whether during the day or at night, the sun and the moon are seen so small that they are no longer the protagonists of the photo. Although they offer light in the picture, their physical presence will be reduced to the smallest of expressions.

    In the previous photo taken with a 20 mm lens, the solar disc is quite small, but its high light intensity increases the size of the sun.

    As for this photo above, it was taken with a 200 mm lens (installed on an APS-C sensor). On this one, you can see the sun disk, which thus appears larger than on the previous photo.

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