Telephoto Landscapes: Create Intimate Portraits With a Long Lens

Beautiful winter sunrise over snow and ice covered Chocorua Lake, NH

When I say “landscape photography,” most people automatically think of wide scenic views photographed through a wide-angle lens. You know, scenes like the one above, right? Considering the fact that most landscapes are indeed photographed that way, that wide-angle assumption is totally understandable.

A wide-angle lens, while certainly the most common, is not the only way to photograph landscapes. Another option, and one of my favorites, is to photograph landscapes using a telephoto lens.

Here are my tips for telephoto landscape photography:

Bob House On Chocorua Lake.

Leave the wide angle home

Well okay, maybe not at home, I do still like to use mine on most occasions, so maybe just leave it in your camera bag for a day. Instead, try using a telephoto lens for your next landscape shoot. Having shot landscapes with focal lengths as long as 400mm, my favorite telephoto for landscape photography is the 70-200.

By using a telephoto lens, you can create a more intimate landscape photo, isolating and including only those key elements of the overall scene to create the visual story you’re trying to tell.

As you can see from the above two photos, both include New Hampshire’s Mount Chocorua as well as the little red bob house out on the lake. However the first one, photographed using a focal length of 17mm, has a completely different look and feel to it than the second one photographed at 121mm.

These next photos, the first of the upper plunge pool at Sabbaday Falls, and the second of a gentle cascade on Smarts Brook, both in New Hampshire, show more intimate photographs of scenic locations most often photographed with wider lenses.

Intimate Sabbaday

I wanted to convey a feeling of tranquility in an intimate forest setting with both photos. A longer focal length enabled me to do that.

Smarts Brook

Capture the compression illusion

Moonlight Cruise

One of the great benefits of using a telephoto lens as a landscape lens is the compression effect of a longer focal length. This effect can make the moon seem larger and closer than it really is. Or it can make distant mountain ridges appear closer together.

White Mountain Layers

If getting close isn’t possible

Autumn At the Lake

Sometimes you may want to photograph something and you even have an idea of how you want the photo to come out, yet you can’t physically get close enough using a wide-angle lens to make your photo. The boat house and small cottage on the far side of this small lake would have been barely identifiable if I had tried to use a wide-angle lens from the shooting position I had set up on the opposite shore.

Avoid the wide-angle mistake

Another benefit of using a telephoto lens for landscapes is that I feel it helps me avoid what I like to call the “wide-angle mistake.” That mistake is to include everything that you see. This often occurs, to the detriment of the final photograph. By using a longer lens, you’re able to exclude the clutter, the unnecessary elements and reduce the image to its simplest form.

Granite And Gold, Autumn On Stonhouse Pond

This photo of granite cliffs and autumn color says a lot about autumn in New Hampshire. It has all it needs to tell the story and nothing it doesn’t.

Don’t give up on all wide-angle shots

Lastly, by limiting yourself to a telephoto lens, you are not limiting yourself to only the more intimate close in landscape photos. When you have a scene that really needs to be photographed wide to capture it grandeur, you have the option of shooting a multi image panorama.

Washington And The Ravines Winter Pano

By setting my camera in the portrait orientation, and shooting 12 shots from left to right, each overlapping the other by about one-third, then stitching them together in Photoshop, I was able to capture this winter view of Mount Washington and some of the surrounding mountains and ravines.

Don’t settle for standard shots! Learn the keys behind compositions that bring landscape photos to life in Craftsy’s Composing Classic Landscapes class.

What’s your favorite lens for creative landscape photography?

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