Updated: Jun 14
The landscape photographers natural first choice is the wide angle lens and with good reason, they can capture beautiful sweeping vistas with big skies, and a wide range of interest, But are you missing out ?
Why use a telephoto lens for landscapes ?
After many years of shooting almost exclusively seascapes and coastal photography I had a bit of a life changing event, I got a puppy who just happens to be my absolute world.
He goes everywhere with me but an awful lot of the venues I photograph are quite dangerous, high cliffs, very angry seas and a lot of hidden dangers of which I'm pretty wise too now.
My puppy however is not, he's super excitable and wants to go everywhere at 100 miles per hour and get into as much mischief as possible !
Put this together with dangerous locations and it's a recipe for disaster and even if I have him on a lead I just wouldn't risk taking him to these places.
I was left with a choice, leave him at home and go and enjoy my photography or change where I shoot and take him with me, puppy eyes gave me the answer to that one !
So being a responsible dog owner and understanding I had made a commitment to put him first my photography had to change so I started shooting inland so he could come with me on every trip.
Which Lens for landscape photography ?
It quickly became apparent that my normal approach of shooting with my 16-35mm lens just wasn't working well for me inland, I mean I was getting some reasonable shots but I felt I was missing more than I should.
The trusty 70-200mm lens was quickly retrieved from the bag and a whole new world was before me.
The landscapes were quickly becoming far more interesting as I was focusing on individual areas and pulling out detail and I was buzzing, it had opened up a whole new world to me and I was really excited about my photography for the first time in a good while.
Inland landscapes really make you work hard for it, I wouldn't say good seascapes are easier to shoot but they do seem to lend themselves far more to the composition and with water movement there is always interest right in front of you.
Inland shots don't give you the same luxuries and you really have to pick out details well in order to finish up with something special.
Long focal lengths were enabling me to do this with a much better frequency than the wide angle lenses.
The main advantage to the long lens was that I was able to really focus on a range of items within the scene and really draw the eye to where I wanted it and compress the view itself into a far more pleasing scene, with the wide angle I was simply losing the detail.
Dorset Light, 111 mm F16, ISO 50
I was able to get back to the real roots of photography, light. It might sound like a daft thing to say but its all to easy to go to a nice coastal location and get a nice sunset sky and get a few good images but these scenes don't really make use of the light as by the time the sun has set there isn't any, pretty colours yes but good light, not so much.
I started with the 70-200 mm F4 lens that I had neglected for many years and quickly decided to get the 2x extender from Canon to give the same lens a new focal length of 140 mm - 400 mm and again this really helped me to pick out good details especially when light spots were moving across the scene in front of me, something that would have been far less dramatic at 16 mm.
I did a week of shooting in Snowdonia and I knew it would be very different from the landscapes I had been shooting in Dorset but I was prepared for it with the long lens and a good 60% of shots I took that week were with the long glass and I was very happy with the results.
This is now featuring far more heavily in my photography and I urge you to make a switch once in a while to try it for yourself and see how you get on because I think you might just be surprised at the results you get.
Double Strike, 105 mm, F8, ISO 320, 20 Seconds
Tower Park Rainbow, 200 mm, F6.3, ISO 200, 1/400 Second
The ability to get close to your subject matter can really help to emphasise exactly what you want to portray and without doubt it can make a picture far more dramatic.
Both the images above were taken with the 70-200 mm and I have shot them before in similar circumstances with the wide angle and each time the pictures ended up going in the trash as the main focus was simply lost, the long glass produced the goods however.
All of the following shots were taken with long glass and I will try and include the focal length on each image to give you an idea of the distance.
Dorset Rolling Light, 70 mm, F16, ISO 50, 0.8 Seconds
Golden Folds, 180 mm, F16, ISO 50, 1 Second
Autumn Mornings, 165 mm, F16, ISO 50, 1 Second
First Light on Snowdon 285 mm, F16, ISO 50, 2 Seconds
Snowdon Morning, 165 mm, F11, ISO 200, 0.5 Seconds
Simply Snowdonia, 105 mm, F16, ISO 50, 0.5 Seconds
Now don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not telling you to drop your wide angle lens and start exclusively shooting at long focal lengths, far from it. My wide angle will still be my favourite and "go to" lens but I am urging you to give the longer focal lengths a try as you might discover as I did a whole new world out there.
I feel it really added a new string to my bow and gave me a renewed passion for seeking out interesting areas that don't get shot to death like the typical landmarks and most importantly it helped improve my photography cause I had to work that much harder to compose and capture, Totally worth it !
My long lens is now used for around 60% of my shots, I'm sure this will drop again when I get back to the coast but it's firmly on the radar now and I'm always looking for an opportunity to get the big guns out.
As always, Happy shooting.