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Say the words “landscape photography,” and most people immediately think of wide-open spaces, majestic mountains, big skies, long views and extreme perspectives. And yet, some landscape images don’t necessarily need impressive land features or dramatic skies. In fact, they may not need sky at all. Successful compositions can be found not only on a grand scale, but also in intimate, graceful detail. Long lenses shouldn’t be overlooked in landscape photography. Their narrow field of view and unique optical qualities allow the photographer to isolate, compress and distill nuances in the scene that otherwise may go overlooked, to pick out careful compositions on any scale and to produce images every bit as striking as their ultrawide brethren.
1 A Little Perspective
One unique quality of long lenses is their ability to compress a scene, making objects appear closer to each other than they really are and resulting in flatter, more two-dimensional renditions compared to lenses of a shorter focal length. This effect has to do with the high magnification of the longer lens, making objects appear closer to the camera at any given perspective (the spatial relationship between the camera and subject), which allows you to stand farther away from the subject and to include fewer background elements for a given subject size. In practical terms, the compression effect lends itself to a number of creative uses. For one, it helps place greater emphasis on the main subject by minimizing the amount of extraneous—and potentially distracting—elements in the frame. It also can be used to juxtapose a subject against a distant background that may provide more favorable results than what may be possible when standing closer to it.
2 Going The Distance
When working in natural environments, any number of obstacles may present themselves, which may limit a photographer’s ability to approach a subject or to gain a favorable perspective. These may include steep cliffs, rushing waters or human-made boundaries. Sometimes there’s no foothold at all where the best perspective may be found. Long lenses can be of great help by bringing the subject to us rather than forcing us to tackle dangerous or impossible barriers.
On other occasions, being physically close to the subject may be detrimental to it or to the image. Your very presence may alter the scene (e.g., create ripples in calm waters, disturb wildlife or trample sensitive vegetation) or may prevent certain elements from being included in the composition (e.g., reflections in water will change based on perspective and getting closer won’t necessarily allow more to be in the frame). Here, too, longer focal lengths that bring the scene closer without physically relocating the camera can be used to great advantage.
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3 Composing For The Intimate
As is the case with other creative pursuits, using the right tool for the right job is paramount to the success of the final product, and long lenses lend themselves best to capturing intimate compositions. Intimate compositions rely on careful and well-balanced placement of key elements in the frame. The ability to both distill a scene down to its essentials and to make prominent elements that otherwise may be lost among a multitude of others requires great attention to detail.
While many landscape images draw their impact from sheer natural grandeur and the vast scale of the scene portrayed, intimate compositions rely on intricate visual relationships and a sense of discovering the order within the chaos.
What may not be as obvious is that intimate compositions can be found anywhere, any time. As photographers, we’re not necessarily bound by the golden hours to produce effective images. Whether unique light is found in discrete areas within the scene or whether the light becomes secondary to the interesting features, colors or tones of specific subjects, making the conscious switch from grand scenes to intriguing vignettes can keep an observant photographer productive all day long and in any conditions.
4 Patterns And Abstracts
Another area where long lenses shine is in abstracting patterns out of the landscape. You can isolate and carefully fill the frame with select detail that offers you a powerful means of focusing attention on intricate natural designs that may be missed in a larger context. This ability is especially useful in environments rich in detail, where wider angles may yield chaotic and unorganized compositions.
While patterns and abstracts often are associated with close-up or macro photography, they can be found on much larger scales as well. Consider dense forests, interesting rock formations, sand dunes and bodies of water—all offer endless opportunities to compose discrete sections of any size that may produce interesting images.
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5 What About The Sky?
Undoubtedly, a dramatic sky can make for spectacular landscape imagery, and it’s a fair statement that these occasions often are better suited for the wider lenses in your kit. When the clouds light up orange and pink or when the delicate pastels of dawn or dusk fill the heavens, you almost always want to fit as much of it as possible into the frame, though long lenses are still useful for occasions where just a sliver of sky is all it takes to set off an interesting foreground.
Too often we try to force a sky into a landscape composition since it complements our natural way of seeing. Here’s a helpful rule of thumb I often use: If there’s nothing spectacular happening in the sky, it’s better to leave it out of the frame altogether.
6 Limitations Of Working With Long Lenses
For all their usefulness, be aware that long lenses have some distinct limitations and that good technique should be practiced. Due to the high magnification involved and their larger physical size, longer lenses are prone to vibration. A sturdy tripod is a must. Another effect of the large magnification ratio is limited depth of field.
For many nature photographers, the wide-angle lens is the one we reach for when we’re facing a landscape. The wide perspectives made famous by photographers like David Muench and others are stunning, but to ignore the possibilities that long lenses offer you when shooting landscapes is to ignore a whole range of shooting possibilities and compositions.
|Not All Long Lenses Are Telephotos|
While the moniker “telephoto” is commonly used to describe any lens of a long focal length, such use is inaccurate. Telephoto describes lenses designed so that their optical center is behind the rear element, thus requiring less extension to focus at infinity. The telephoto design is especially useful in very long lenses, which otherwise would require extremely long barrels. Still, a lens of a given focal length, even a long one, may or may not be a telephoto lens.
|Canon EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM||300mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||5.0 x 9.9 in.||89.6 oz.|
|Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM||70-200mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||3.4 x 7.8 in.||51.2 oz.|
|Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS USM||100-400mm||ƒ/4.5-5.6||ƒ/32-38||3.6 x 7.4 in.||49.6 oz.|
|Canon EF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 DO IS USM||70-300mm||ƒ/4.5-5.6||ƒ/32-38||3.2 x 3.9 in.||25.4 oz.|
|Nikon AF-S VR Nikkor 200mm ƒ/2G IF-ED||200mm||ƒ/2||ƒ/22||4.9 x 8.0 in.||92.8 oz.|
|Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED||70-200mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/22||3.4 x 8.5 in.||51.2 oz.|
|Nikon AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6D ED||80-400mm||ƒ/4.5-5.6||ƒ/32||3.6 x 6.7 in.||48.0 oz.|
|Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm ƒ/2.8D ED||80-200mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/22||3.4 x 7.4 in.||43.2 oz.|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 35-100mm ƒ/2.0||35-100mm||ƒ/2||ƒ/22||3.8 x 8.4 in.||57.6 oz.|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 150mm ƒ/2.0||150mm||ƒ/2||ƒ/22||3.9 x 5.9 in.||56.0 oz.|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50-200mm ƒ/2.8-3.5 SWD||50-200mm||ƒ/2.8-3.5||ƒ/22||3.4 x 6.2 in.||35.0 oz.|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 70-300mm ƒ/4.0-5.6||70-300mm||ƒ/4-5.6||ƒ/22||3.1 x 5.0 in.||22.1 oz.|
|Pentax smc DA* 300mm ED ƒ/4||300mm||ƒ/4||ƒ/32||3.3 x 7.2 in.||37.7 oz.|
|Pentax smc DA* 50-135mm ƒ/2.8||50-135mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/22||3.0 x 5.4 in.||24.0 oz.|
|Pentax smc DA 55-300mm ED ƒ/4-5.8||55-300mm||ƒ/4-5.8||ƒ/22-32||2.8 x 4.4 in.||15.5 oz.|
|Pentax smc DA 50-200mm ƒ/4-5.6||50-200mm||ƒ/4-5.6||ƒ/22-32||2.6 x 3.1 in.||9.0 oz.|
|Sigma APO 300mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG/HSM||300mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||4.7 x 8.4 in.||84.8 oz.|
|Sigma APO 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 II EX DG||70-200mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/22||3.4 x 7.3 in.||48.0 oz.|
|Sigma APO 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG HSM||120-300mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||4.4 x 10.7 in.||91.2 oz.|
|Sigma APO 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM||120-400mm||ƒ/4.5-5.6||ƒ/22||3.6 x 8.0 in.||61.7 oz.|
|Sony SAL-300F28G||300mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||5.8 x 9.4 in.||81.6 oz.|
|Sony SAL-70200G||70-200mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||3.2 x 7.7 in.||35.2 oz.|
|Sony SAL-70300G||70-300mm||ƒ/4.5-5.6||ƒ/32||3.3 x 5.4 in.||28.2 oz.|
|Sony SAL-18250||18-250mm||ƒ/3.5-6.3||ƒ/22-40||3.0 x 5.4 in.||15.5 oz.|
|Tamron SP AF300mm ƒ/2.8 LD||300mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||4.7 x 8.4 in.||99.2 oz.|
|Tamron SP AF70-200mm ƒ/2.8 Di LD||70-200mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||3.5 x 7.6 in||40.0 oz.|
|Tamron AF28-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 XR Di LD||28-300mm||ƒ/3.5-6.3||ƒ/22||2.9 x 3.3 in.||14.8 oz.|
|Tamron AF28-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC||28-300mm||ƒ/3.5-6.3||ƒ/22-40||3.1 x 3.9 in.||19.4 oz.|
|Tokina AT-X 535 PRO DX||50-135mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||3.1 x 5.3 in.||30.4 oz.|
|Tokina AT-X 100 PRO D||100mm||ƒ/2.8||ƒ/32||2.9 x 3.7 in.||19.2 oz.|
|Tokina AT-X 840 AF D||80-400mm||ƒ/4.5-5.6||ƒ/32||3.1 x 5.4 in.||35.9 oz.|
See more of Guy Tal’s long-lens landscape photography and other images at http://guytal.com.