Let face it – we landscape photographers love to shoot with wide angle lenses. And there is a very good reason for it. When you arrive at a breathtaking location, you are often so overwhelmed with the sights and sounds that your first instinct is to pull out that wide lens and capture everything around you. So it is no wonder that we use telephoto lenses less often for nature photography.
However, telephoto lenses have the potential to take your nature photography in an entirely different direction. To effectively use telephoto lenses, you will have to change your mindset and look at things a bit differently.
Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of your telephoto lenses.
#1 – Catch Wildlife in Action
I am the first to admit that there are places where you can get really close to wildlife, such as in a zoo. But it is rare to be able to get close to wildlife in nature. If you really want to pursue wildlife photography in a natural setting, you need a good telephoto lens. While we do not always shoot wildlife, we will almost always carry a telephoto lens with us just in case an opportunity to capture wildlife presents itself.
This is exactly what happened when we traveled to Costa Rica to create a creative nature photography video tutorial with Lensbaby lens. The abundance of magnificent birds in Costa Rica made it hard for a landscape photographer to not pull out their telephoto lens for wildlife photography. Sometimes, when we are travelling to a location like Costa Rica and we know that there is potential to shoot wildlife, we rent a good quality telephoto lens just so that we don’t miss any opportunity that may pop up.
#2 – Photograph Distant Vistas
When we were in Peru, we could see the mountains all around us. Every once in a while, a storm would roll in and create some breathtaking light among the surrounding mountains and valley. These storms and light would be fleeting. They were there one moment but within minutes, would vanish. There was almost no opportunity for us to drive to the location before the storm light disappeared. So the obvious choice was to use a telephoto lens to capture the distance vista.
Telephoto lenses can also be used to capture a scene that is located on private property, objects that are out of reach (such as objects on the side of a cliff), or even some fantastic aerial photos.
#3 – Capture Small Subjects
When we think about small subjects, we immediately think about macro photography. But there are subjects that are large enough to be captured by a long lens. Any subject that does not require 1:1 magnification can be captured by your long lens. Here are a few examples of small subjects captured with a long lens.
Some living subjects, like this gecko in Hawaii, are hard to photograph because they are scared of humans approaching too closely. For these subjects, a long lens allows you to stand away from and capture your subject without disturbing them.
#4 – Explore Creativity
When we arrived at Artist Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park, I asked the students to get ready to shoot. One of the students asked, “Should I used 16-35mm or 24-70mm?” We explained to the student that we were at Artist Paint Pots in the middle of the day to capture some beautiful abstracts with our long lenses and showed them an example we had taken earlier. Our students spent the next two hours trying to capture some fantastic abstracts of mud as it exploded at this beautiful location.
Not only did this location required us to look at things creatively, but you had to use creative thinking to overcome technical challenges such getting everything sharply in focus, freezing motion, and dealing with an incredible short window of time to capture an exploding bubble.
#5 – Isolate Your Subject
Telephoto lenses tend to have an incredibly narrow depth of field. While this can be challenging if you are trying to get everything sharply in focus, it can be very useful to isolate your subject from your background.
Here is a shot that Varina took in Colorado with a long lens to isolate this aspen using a shallow depth of field. She used fall foliage and other aspens as her backdrop to give this image a sense of time and place. You can also use the shallow depth of field to isolate wildlife, flowers, and other small subjects from the background.
#6 – Change Your Perspective
It is a well known fact that telephoto lenses amplify distant objects. You can use this to change the perspective in your nature photos. We often use telephoto lenses when we want to magnify the distance objects for nature photography.
While photographing this church at a remote location in Iceland, I used a long lens to magnify the mountain behind the church. This allowed me to isolate the bright church against the dark mountain behind it.
This quality of magnifying distance objects using telephoto lenses can be an excellent creative asset. We have used it to include the moon in our landscape photos, create panoramas, fill the frame with passing storms, and more.
Here is another example from Iceland where I used a long lens to create a panorama from this mountain range.
#7 – Shoot at All Times of the Day
Depending upon the subject matter, you can be out shooting with a telephoto lens any time of the day. We captured both the abstract from Yellowstone National Park and the wildlife photos from Costa Rica at midday. The narrow field of telephoto lenses, combined with the small size of the subjects, made it easy to find subjects that were evenly-lit, even during the midday.
This meant that our time on location was utilized much more efficiently and we were able to come away with some fantastic photos that our wide angle lenses would not be able to capture.
While telephoto lenses can be highly effective for nature photography, they are not always easy to use. They come with their own set of challenges that must be overcome to produce sharp standout photos. Our Telephoto Lenses for Nature Photography Tutorial shows you how to overcome challenges, be creative, and fill your portfolio with awe-inspiring photos.
So… the next time you are traveling for a nature photography workshop or visiting a location where there is abundant wildlife, make sure to bring your favorite telephoto lens with you.