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Golden Sunrise

Telephoto Lenses For Landscapes

More than likely, most photographers purchase a telephoto lens for wildlife photography. It’s totally logical, and I use my telephoto lenses for wildlife, too. A telephoto lens gets the photographer “close”, even when it is either impossible or illegal to do so otherwise.

Moulton Barn

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, Tamron 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 340 mm, 1/800 Second at f/8, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 180

I love to use my telephoto lenses for landscapes and close-ups. When I attach a telephoto lens, I see the world differently. Common subjects and scenes often become not so common!

Smokey Sunrise

Shooting Data: NIKON D800, Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 195 mm, 1/200 Second at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 100

When a photographer is close to his subject, a long telephoto lens has a very shallow depth of field. When the subject is a considerable distance from the photographer, much of the scene will be in relatively good focus. The layers in the scene become compressed. Engineers can tell you “why”. I can simply tell you that it “does”. (Hyperfocul Distance: Cambridge In Colour)

Oxbow Roadway

Shooting Data: NIKON D810, Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 200 mm, 1/320 Second at f/10, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV,  ISO 200

All of my lenses are zooms. I’d love to own all of the prime lenses, but I would be extremely in debt, and I’d have to make a lot more decisions when leaving the truck. Imagine the cost of needing a 200mm, 3oomm, 400mm, 500mm and a 600mm! I would need a llama to pack around all the gear. Maybe prime lenses are a bit sharper, but zoom lenses are extremely versatile. My normal landscape lens is a Nikon 24-70mm workhorse. I’ve had it a long time and use it regularly. The mid-range telephoto is a Nikon 70-200 mm VR2. On the longer side, I have three telephoto zooms. My oldest one is a Nikon 200-400mm VR. I now have a Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens and a Nikon 200-500 VR. The 200-400mm hasn’t been getting a lot of use over the past couple of years with the lighter weight and longer reach of the other two. For this page, I’m including images mostly at 150mm and above.

Red Hills

Shooting Data: NIKON D810, TAMRON SP AF 150-600mm F5-6.3 VC USD A011N at 250 mm, 1/1600 Second at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -2 1/3 EV,  ISO 320

Most people seem to use a “landscape lens” for their landscapes, right?  But, photos taken with a landscape lens are simply not the same! For example, I could drive to the base of the lower stand of aspens in the photo above, and I could get some great foliage shots, but those photos probably wouldn’t have the same impact. A telephoto lens allows me to isolate zones of my choosing within the otherwise huge environment.

Triangle Q Ranch

Shooting Data: NIKON D300, Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 116 mm, 1/500 Second at f/9, Aperture priority Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 200

In most areas of Jackson Hole, it is illegal to get closer to wildlife than 25 yards—or closer than 100 yards to a bear or wolf. It’s generally not smart to be within 40 yards of a Moose and I tend to be next to my vehicle when photographing Bison from any distance. There are places in the Tetons where you can walk right up to a historic old barn, house, windmill, or structure. Outside the park, most areas are privately owned, so unless you are able to get permission to be on the private property, it’s almost always necessary to take photos from the roadway.

Miller House

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, TAMRON SP AF 150-600mm F5-6.3 VC USD A011N at 190 mm, 1/1250 Second at f/9, Manual Mode, -1 1/3 EV,  ISO 640

If visiting the National Elk Refuge, tourists and photographers are required to stay within about 10 yards of the roadway. Other than the days the Bighorn Sheep are actually on the roads, a telephoto lens is almost mandatory there.

I love the ability to get the shots, AND compress the scene in a landscape. That’s a common theme within the images on this page!

Peach House

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, Nikon 200-500 mm f/5.6 at 200 mm, 1/640 Second at f/11, Manual Mode, 1/3 EV,  ISO 280

There are a lot of “layers” in this photo. The house at Mormon Row is dwarfed by the hills and mountains behind it. The buildings are plenty sharp, but you might also see someone skiing on the top of the distant mountain.

Peach House

Shooting Data: NIKON D810, 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 at 48 mm, 1/125 Second at f/13, Aperture priority Mode, 0 EV,  ISO 100

This is the only photo on the page taken with a “landscape lens”. Overall, the angle is about the same as the previous image, but the results are  very different!

Peach House

Shooting Data: NIKON D300, 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 70 mm, 1/2500 Second at f/11, Aperture priority Mode, -3 1/3 EV,  ISO 200

This one was taken at the short end of the 70-200 mm lens. It could have been taken at the long end of my 24-70mm lens. All I had to do was back up a hundred yards to put the entire homestead into an environment. (Note, I was having a problem with that lens at the time, overexposing images. I sent it in for service and it worked fine afterwards)

Even if you never plan on visiting Grand Teton National Park, you should check out the slideshow on this page: Photographing the Mormon Row Barns: On the page, I try to explain how you can control many aspects of a landscape image by moving back from the closest subject and using a telephoto lens. This shot, and many others on this page will make a lot more sense if you check out the other page. More importantly, you can use the same techniques with barns, geysers, and covered bridges—and even family photos and portraits.

Wrangler

Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Nikon 200-400 mm f/4.0 at 350 mm, 1/1000 Second at f/7.1, Aperture priority Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 400

This wrangler photo uses the technique in a grand way!

Sometimes, a close object or objects will be slightly out of focus when focusing on the main subject. Across the board, most people overlook the issue when viewing a photo, but it is possible to plan ahead in the field and capture multiple images for a relatively simple process called focus stacking. You can read a lot about how to do it on this page: Focus Stacking: Increased Depth of Field by Combining Multiple Images

Focus Stack

An Example of Focus Stacking: I took this image using a Nikon 200-400mm lens at a long distance from the subjects. I focused on the fence in one image and the barn in the other. The result of the two captures is shown in the image below.

Box L Ranch

Shooting Data: NIKON D800, Nikon 200-400 mm f/4.0 at 400 mm, 1/250 Second at f/10, Aperture priority Mode, 0 EV,  ISO 100

Photographers use Focus Stacking for all kinds of projects, including Macro/Micro Photography. I include the info here because it is relatively easy to do with a telephoto lens, too.

Rain Storm

Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 70 mm, 1/60 Second at f/8, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 100

Occasionally, Mother Nature catches me off guard or unprepared for the situation. Imagine being out in the field with a telephoto lens, capturing a variety of tight shots and then a quick moving storm rolls in. It is possible to level the tripod, then take a series of shots that can be stitched in Lightroom or Photoshop. Better yet, it is possible to rotate the camera to “portrait mode” and capture the scene with a lot of pano parts that can be turned into a jumbo image! I’ve captured full rainbows using this technique. This page can give you a good background on how to capture and stitch panoramic images: Panoramic Images: Tips for Getting More of the Tetons in a Shot

Hidden Falls Pano

Shooting Data: NIKON D800, Tamron 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 150 mm, 1/15 Second at f/9, Manual Mode, -2 EV,  ISO 64

When I planned my outing to Hidden Falls, I hauled a heavy tripod, camera and telephoto lens with me. I got plenty of wacky looks going both directions as I trudged by the other hikers. Most people carry their small camera, iPhone, or point-n- shoot camera. They get shots, but not the same kind you can get with a telephoto lens! I captured this image quite a few times as pano parts. Each pano set consisted of 6 to 10 horizontal captures, as described in the page above. Yes, there might be a little practice to get a handle on pano photos, but they can be extremely rewarding. Here’s the link again: Panoramic Images: Tips for Getting More of the Tetons in a Shot.

Note: I cover these techniques on my One-On-One Excursions if people are interested in them!  In the Tetons, panoramic opportunities are everywhere!

Falls Creek

Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Tamron 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 150 mm, 1/2 Second at f/32, Aperture priority Mode, -2 EV,  ISO 100

Falls Creek, on the South Fork of the Snake, is a hidden gem. It takes a drift boat ride to get to the island across from it, so you seldom see a shot from this vantage point. A slow shutter speed is workable on a solid tripod. I used a 3 second “Shutter Delay” on the camera to help eliminate the mirror flap.

Elk and Tetons

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, Nikon 70-180 mm f/4.5-5.6 at 140 mm, 1/100 Second at f/9, Manual Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 100

This is one more example of using a telephoto lens for a panoramic image. I had a mid-range telephoto lens on the camera when I drove alongside this group of elk. I couldn’t get the Elk and the top of the Grand in the same photo, so I took two shots and spliced them in Lightroom. I could have switched lenses to capture this in a single shot, but the skittish elk would have been long gone!

Arizona Meadows

Shooting Data: NIKON D810, Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 200 mm, 1/160 Second at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, 0 EV,  ISO 100

This golden meadow is located near Arizona Creek, close to the north end of Jackson Lake. I was taking photos of the distant aspens when a group of Mule Deer ran across the scene. It’s possible to walk up to and into the aspens, but the telephoto shot from around 300 yards is my favorite opportunity there in the fall.

Bison and Death Canyon

Shooting Data: NIKON D300, Nikon 200-400 mm f/4.0 at 300 mm, 1/320 Second at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 200

These last two shots are landscape captures that just happen to have some wildlife sprinkled into them.

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, TAMRON SP AF 150-600mm F5-6.3 VC USD A011N at 210 mm, 1/250 Second at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -2 1/3 EV,  ISO 100

Currently, I own three camera bodies. I used two for most of my years. One of the bodies usually has the long telephoto lens, more or less ready for wildlife encounters. One typically is paired with the mid-telephoto lens, and the third one has the landscape lens. I grab the one that fits the scene, and often it is the longest reaching lens!

Sunrise Over Ft. Meyers Beach

Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Tamron 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/640 Second at f/6.3, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 100

Telephoto lenses can work wonders for capturing the sun and moon, but photographers need to use extreme care when capturing the sun! I took this one at 600mm from Sanibel Island across the bay to Ft. Meyers Beach.

Super Moon

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, Nikon 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 500 mm, 1/320 Second at f/8, Manual Mode, 1/3 EV,  ISO 450

This is one of the recent “Super Moons”. There’s a formula for celestial photography. Divide 400 by the focal length to come up with a maximum shutter speed to be able to “freeze” stars at an acceptable level. For example, 400 divided by 50mm = 8 seconds. At 600mm, the shutter speed shouldn’t be much over 3/4 second. Of course, the moon is much closer to the earth than any star, so slightly slower shutter speeds might be okay. I still use “the formula”, even for the moon.

Spider Web

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 at 300 mm, 1/320 Second at f/18, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 1600

At the other end of the spectrum, telephoto lenses can work well for close-up photography. 600mm at only 5-7 feet can capture some fun images.

Aspens

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, Tamron 150-600 mm G2,  f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/1000 Second at f/8, Manual Mode, 0 EV,  ISO 800

A backlit image like this early Spring aspen can be difficult to photograph with a short lens. Lens flare can be an issue, but with a telephoto, it is possible to isolate areas without the flares.

Pond Scum

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, TAMRON SP AF 150-600mm F5-6.3 VC USD A011N at 600 mm, 1/200 Second at f/9, Manual Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 100

As I mentioned earlier, going out with a telephoto lens allows me to see the world with a different set of “eyes”. This is a photo of some reflected pond scum.

Frosted Leaves

Shooting Data: NIKON D300, Nikon 200-400 mm f/4.0 at 270 mm, 1/400 Second at f/7.1, Aperture priority Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 200

At close range, a telephoto can help isolate the important subject, while throwing other parts quickly out of focus.

Stove Pipes

Shooting Data: NIKON D5, Tamron 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 550 mm, 1/1000 Second at f/10, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 220

Often, I go to the Mormon Row and do the obligatory photos using the standard lenses. I then go back to the vehicle and change lens to one of my telephotos. I’ve photographed at Mormon Row hundreds of times, but each time with the telephoto lens attached, I find hundreds of ways of seeing the area I had never photographed before. When I am back at home, I typically migrate to those images. Everyone shoots the others.

I mention Mormon Row above, but I do the same pretty much everywhere I go. Get the obligatory shots out of the way, then start looking for the more interesting, tight shots. Check out the image below and just look for all of the additional photo opportunities I had while walking around with a telephoto lens!

Evanston Round House

Shooting Data: NIKON D800, Tamron 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 400 mm, 1/125 Second at f/10, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 200

The image above was captured at the Evanston Round House.

Back in my college art school days, we had to set up still life scenes, then draw or paint them. I could move a book, or flower vase, or clock—and “adjust” any element in the scene as desired. I could change the angle or intensity light source. I could adjust the angle I viewed the scene by raising or lowering the table top. In other words, I had total control. In photography, we usually get to move around a bit, get higher, get lower, and so forth. We can change lenses and camera bodies. But, we typically don’t get to move the parts around in the actual scene! With a camera, I like to think I am actually “cropping nature” instead of composing a scene. It might take you some time to wrap your head around the concept, but I am thinking about it constantly on landscapes. Someone might suggest that an image has a “nice composition”, but I would suggest I did a good job of “cropping” the scene in front of me! Telephoto zooms are great tools for this.

Smoke

Shooting Data: NIKON D810, Tamron 150-600 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/1000 Second at f/10, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 180

Telephoto lenses allow me to experience the world in much smaller “boxes”. Often, less is more. Earlier, I mentioned using telephoto lenses to create panoramic images. After doing a few thousand panos, I’ve learned to “see panos” all around me. After a few thousand tight shots like the smoke above, I “see” the tight shots that possibly others pass by.

Raindrops

Shooting Data: NIKON D500, Nikon 28-300 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 250 mm, 1/250 Second at f/7.1, Manual Mode, 1/3 EV,  ISO 500

Whether an image makes its way on someone’s living room wall is never the issue! Capturing them simply makes me smile.

Brown Ranch

Shooting Data: NIKON D300, Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 135 mm, 1/125 Second at f/10, Aperture priority Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 200

There are lots of times I need a landscape lens in the Tetons, but I think I have the most fun and capture the photos I like best with a telephoto lens. Knowing I can create pano parts at any time, I often have the best of both worlds. I’d be ready if a Badger pops its head out of a hole or a wolf or coyote walks by. I can capture relatively close objects as “close-ups”—and I have lots of options regarding depth of field. Photographers have been coming to the Grand Teton National Park since 1929, so it is a challenge to find different, or unique ways of photographing the park. Telephoto landscape captures are one of the ways of fulfilling the challenge.


Please, if you like this post, SHARE it using the Social Media Icons on this page. Remember, these images are fully copyrighted with the US Copyright Office, so don’t copy them or use them as source images or paintings.

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Comments (7)

  1. Dave Obrien

    Great post,Mike! I really enjoy the examples you have provided!

    I will make better use of my 200-500 and 70-200. I have a 24-70 as well. I pretty much decided to forego the 150-600 G2. It just never ends!

  2. Mike, your posts teach me and inspire me and this one is right up there as one of my favorites. As a landscape photographer my 24-120 is my go-to lens with the super wide angle my back up. But your “Telephoto Lenses for Landscapes” is jarring my view of how I should be thinking and seeing. Having lived near the Tetons for 5 years it is now time for me to take a step back … a big step back and look at my world with my 70-200. Mike, you take some very good photos but you are also doing some very good teaching.

  3. Craig Knecht

    Mike,
    Thanks for being so specific in how you capture your amazing photos. Many would be very protective of their “processes and tools” but you offer your help to those of us who enjoy photography.

  4. Randy, Thanks for the comments, as always. I didn’t say it specifically, but I’d suggest that when most people to into their “landscape mode”, they grab their shorter lens and then look for scenes and opportunities that fit their vision of a landscape. In many cases, that means getting fairly close to the “subject” which pushes the big backdrop into an almost unneeded player. In Jackson Hole, the backdrop behind a barn or cabin can be a huge “player”. Including the scale of the mountains and the vastness of the rugged terrain add to the narrative. This post is intended to encourage people to look at their notions of only using a short lens for landscapes.

  5. Liz Willis

    I love using my telephoto lenses, but after 20 yrs I still consider myself an amateur. You explain the how and why so that I can understand the specifics of what you are doing. Thank you for sharing your talent with us. You are a remarkable photographer. My trip to Yosemite next week will be a new experience with my camera thanks to you.

  6. Hi Liz, Thanks! A lot of people see a scene while driving down the road they like, but instead of stopping then and there, they assume it will get better as they get closer. Possibly, sometimes it does, but often it gets worse. If you understand what is happening to the scale relationships, you can stop at the sweet spot. You can make Old Faithful look huge by stepping back 50-100 yards and putting tiny tourists at the base. Just use a lens that gets everyone in the scene!

  7. John Minter

    Very impressive photos and great explanations, Mike. My wife is a confirmed devotee of her 70-300L lens, and sees everything in ‘telephoto’. I, on the other hand, see in ‘wide angle’ and use a 24-105 most of the time; but I’m learning to utilize my 100-400L for landscape as well. Your explicit explanations really help. Live in Minnesota, but love the West.
    Thanks, John

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