Telephoto Landscapes

Cool ice and Mount Deborah.

Cool ice and Mount Deborah. Taken at 200mm.

People are always surprised when I tell them that I rarely use a wide-angle lens for my photography. I prefer to work with a 70-200 lens, in fact, over 80% of my images are with that lens.

A wide-angle lens generally needs a close foreground subject that anchors the image or directs the viewer to another object in the distance. This is often referred to as a near-far composition. The foreground is the often main subject, while the distant subject establishes the environment or sets the mood. Sometimes the foreground is just a guide, that leads us to a more dominant background subject.

Beautiful mixed light, Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range.

Beautiful mixed light, Hayes Glacier, eastern Alaska Range. Taken at 400mm.

Using a wide-angle lens effectively is much harder than one thinks. Wide-angle photographs often include more of the scene then what we want. Including too much in our photographs is possibly the most common error that leads to disappointment in our work. I was once given the advice: “Once you composed the perfect image, to move in 20% closer.” I continue to encourage my workshop students to do the same.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river.

1:00am sunset lights the rain, sky and river. Taken at 70mm.

It takes practice to really isolate “what” we like from a scene. When we realize what is really attracting us to a particular landscape,we can use a telephoto lens to “reach out” and grab the elements in the scene that we had been seduced by.

A telephoto lens compresses a landscape, creating layers of land and light that appear close to each other, even though they could be separated by miles and miles. Light and shadow are major elements in a telephoto landscape, they add depth to a scene that has been smashed into a two-dimensional image. Deep, long shadows and bright, dramatic highlights are the best for telephoto landscapes.

Sy and Chris descend through the upper Kahiltna Icefall, Mount Foraker is in the background, Denali National Park and Preserve

Sy and Chris descend through the upper Kahiltna Icefall, Mount Foraker is in the background, Denali National Park and Preserve. Having people in this images gives a sense of scale and really completes the image.

A telephoto landscape can bring out the graphic, abstract qualities of photography, light and the landscape. That is usually a good thing, but sometimes, its more powerful to have a small object in the frame, like a person or a tree, which adds a sense of scale to an image. So next time leave your wide angle at home and try and photograph some landscapes with just a telephoto, you will amazed by the results.

 

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