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Telephoto Landscapes

Use your longer lenses for new perspectives on your scenics
This Article Features Photo Zoom

“Autumn’s Grace”

Some of my favorite portfolio images have been taken with my telephoto lenses. Zooming in on the landscape compresses features together and can enable more abstract and artistic compositions. When I was out photographing in the autumn of 2013, I used my 300mm lens as often as the wider-angle lenses since telephoto compositions work particularly well for trees and foliage. In this article, I’ll share a few of my favorite telephoto landscapes and what to look for when you want to create intriguing telephoto landscape compositions.

Left: “Rainbow Waterfall”, Right: “Dogwood Blossoms”

For my image “Autumn’s Grace,” I used a 300mm lens and a 1.7x converter attached, making it a 510mm shot (with my medium-format Hasselblad lens). The telephoto composition compresses the foreground aspens with the foliage in the background, making everything in the image appear on a similar plane. The aspens in the lower portion of the image have lost some of their leaves, making them appear translucent. Even though this is a telephoto composition, I used basic compositional guidelines, including the Rule of Thirds and an interesting foreground, to create this image.

In “Rainbow Waterfall,” I also used the 300mm plus the 1.7x teleconverter. I was in Yosemite Valley photographing a more wide-angle composition in Ahwahnee Meadow, and happened to turn around and see the February sun illuminating Upper Yosemite Falls, creating a colorful rainbow from the spray. The rainbow started higher up the waterfall, and as the sun moved, the colors slowly progressed down the waterfall. I quickly put on my telephoto lens, looked through the viewfinder and noticed the tree in the lower left of the image, which lent an important sense of scale to the composition. When the rainbow colors met the trees, I knew I had my shot. Sometimes you can’t clearly see the composition until you look through the viewfinder with the tele lens on. I like to handhold the camera while I’m looking for the composition, then before I take the shot, I lock the camera on the tripod and use a cable release with mirror lock-up so that camera shake is eliminated. There’s no tolerance for camera movement when shooting telephoto landscapes, since every bit of camera shake is magnified in the final image.

“High Country Aspens”

This image of dogwood blossoms demonstrates how telephoto lenses can be used with wildflower photography. Since telephoto images magnify the subject, the blur in out-of-focus areas is more apparent for a given aperture. You can use this to create the “bokeh” effect with larger apertures, which can be particularly attractive with wildflowers. This lends an artistic softness to the image and helps draw attention to the in-focus blossoms. If all the blossoms were in focus in this image, I think the composition wouldn’t work as well, since there would be more distracting elements in the image.

I took “High Country Aspens” with the 300mm lens and 1.7x converter. The telephoto composition allowed me to zoom in on a particular section of this aspen grove in the far distance that had some smaller evergreen trees, which lend a sense of scale and contrast to the scene. When photographing fall foliage, I think it’s important to make the tree trunks visible in the composition. These trunks were very tall and straight, making them an ideal subject. The telephoto composition allowed me to emphasize the beauty and uniformity of these trunks by compressing the grove. Photographing the aspens from a distance helped me avoid the distortion created by using a wide-angle lens.

See more of Elizabeth Carmel‘s photography at and Workshop information is available at

Elizabeth Carmel is a professional fine art photographer specializing in unique, expressive landscapes and "waterscapes." Elizabeth’s fine art prints combine dramatic photography, vivid colors and artistic touches to create new, captivating visions of the natural world. Using ultra-high resolution 50-megapixel digital photography, she’s able to capture the subtle details of the natural world and transfer them to large prints with stunning clarity and color. She does her own printing on fine art paper or canvas with long-life pigmented inks. Her award-winning images are in numerous galleries and private collections throughout the United States. Her prints have been displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., at the California Museum of Photography and the Nevada Museum of Art. Elizabeth published a book of her photography, Brilliant Waters, Portraits of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and the High Sierra with a foreword by Robert Redford.