Using a Long Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography
Using a Long Telephoto Lens for Landscape Photography avatar

Many articles on landscape photography extol the virtues of the wide angle lens. Among those virtues, we are told, they have great depth of field and allow the photographer to capture broad expanses as well.

In this post we will study one example of effectively using much longer lenses. Among the features I find useful is the ability to select and isolate subjects from their surroundings. I also like the spatial compression they create. For example a subject 100 yards away, with a background another 100 yards beyond that when photographed using a 500mm lens on a 35mm full frame camera would likely seem to be much closer together. The lens and sensor in this example would be similar to looking at the subject through a 10 power telescope so the subject would appear to be 10 yards away and the background would appear to be 20 yards away. A side effect of this property is the steepening of slopes. Take a close-up photograph a flower with a mountain ridge a mile behind it using a wide angle lens and the ridge will appear much flatter than it is. Back up and use a longer lens and the ridge will get steeper – but may end up out of focus due to the shallower depth of field of the long lens.

All of the photos used in the post were shot with either a Nikon D70 or a Nikon D200. Both are digital SLR type cameras with APS-C sensor size. All of the lenses used were zoom lenses. Since we are only interested in the relative effect of long versus wide lenses I will not give all the details of each lens and exposure. Neither will I calculate the equivalent focal length that would be needed for the same field of view on a full frame 35mm camera. I leave that to you!

The subject of the photos is a Church on Van Schaick Island in Cohoes, New York. Our first image is close enough to the church that we need a wide angle to get the whole building into the frame. The second and third images are within a few blocks of the church and show that it is in an urban neighborhood. The last two images are from 0.78 miles (1.26 km) away. One is shot with a wide angle and shows what we’re shooting across and isolating our church from. The last image is shot with a 500mm lens through a chain link fence (which degraded the sharpness a bit). In it a distant hill – about a mile behind the church, across the Hudson River and all of North Troy – is made to look like it is directly behind the church. In this image we have not only isolated the church but have changed the appearance of its location from urban to rural!

Shot from across the street with 18mm focal length.

Shot from across the street with 18mm focal length.

A block west of the church we have moved up to a 90mm lens. Once away from the church but in the neighborhood, often the only part of the church visible is the bell tower.

A block west of the church we have moved up to a 90mm lens. Once away from the church but in the neighborhood, often the only part of the church visible is the bell tower.

A few blocks north, looking south on Park Avenue with the lens at 142mm.

A few blocks north, looking south on Park Avenue with the lens at 142mm.

0.78 miles west of the church. If you don't know where to look, you might not even see the church. Cohoes spread out across the foreground and Troy is hidden in the drop to the Hudson River behind the Church. Shot with an 18mm lens.

0.78 miles (1.26 km) west of the church. If you don’t know where to look, you might not even see the church. Cohoes is spread out across the foreground and Troy is hidden in the drop to the Hudson River behind the Church. Shot with an 18mm lens.

0.78 miles (1.26 km) west, 500 mm lens. Now we see the church surrounded by a forest in fall colors!

0.78 miles (1.26 km) west, 500 mm lens. Now we see the church surrounded by a forest in fall colors!