I had the good fortune of visiting Italy’s Dolomites region in early 2019 to photograph the winter conditions of that most-impressive mountain range. Historically, my kneejerk reaction to photographing mountains has been to grab a camera and my widest lens available. It makes sense, after all, because mountains are generally gigantic and a wider focal length will yield a higher probability of fitting everything within my frame.
However, what I hadn’t considered was the amount of bright white snow that I’d have littered all over the place. Despite its undeniable beauty, it made things quite complicated because of how prevalent it was within each composition. In some cases, it’d be a welcome addition, especially if I was focusing on minimalism and negative space. However, my mind was elsewhere during the trip and the snow required me to take a different approach.
Before leaving for this trip, I had received a strong recommendation from several photographer friends to pack a long telephoto zoom lens. It was the sort of tip that ended with, “Trust me.” Fortunately, I listened to my friends and packed my Sony 100-400mm zoom lens, which ended up being used for about 95 percent of my photos during that entire trip.
In all honesty, I didn’t expect to enjoy using such long focal lengths with these landscape shots, but I’m so happy that I did. Extending out to 350mm or 400mm (and beyond, thanks to my 1.4x teleconverter), I was able to capture all of the intricacies of these formidable rocky facades.
I would have absolutely missed out on some of my favorite photos from the entire trip had I not been able to extend to such long focal lengths. On one particularly frigid morning, during sunrise, a weather system passed by the mountain range, intermittently enveloping the area in thick clouds. Had I only used a wide-angle lens, I am certain that my photos would be far less impactful because the bulk of the frame would be grey from the cloud cover. However, because I could tighten up on particular areas of mountain that were clear, I was able to capture them with exceptional beauty and detail, thanks to the layering.
I know that this article sounds like an ode to my telephoto lens, and it sort of is! If anything, my hope is that you read this article and get inspired to consider alternative lenses and focal lengths on your next landscape shoot. You may find yourself quite surprised with the experience and results.
See more of Brian Matiash’s work at matiash.com.