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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Telephoto lenses - when your foreground is boring!

People often ask me when they should use a telephoto lens for landscape photography. In fact it's a common misconception that you should only use your widest angle lens for landscapes - particularly those from famous lookouts.

There's a problem with that. Do you remember last week when we talked about how wide angle lenses really emphasise the foreground? What happens when your foreground is really, really boring? Or worse still what happens if it's ugly?

Take this shot here. Taken on the picturesque Mt Moiwa in the centre of Sapporo, it's looking from a cablecar down to the city. Now I could just as easily have waited until the cable car in the frame got closer to me and photographed it with a wide angle lens.

The only problem was that everything in the foreground (ie directly below me) was a boring, neverending forest. Sure it was quite pretty in a monotone green kind of, wrong time of day kind of way. I didn't need to show lots of it to let the viewer know that it was there. In fact by just showing a bit it lets the viewer imagine how much might be there.

So the foreground had to go. It would only take away from the impact of the picture. So I waited until the cablecar had gone whizzing past me and was headed down the mountain and waited with a long telephoto lens.

Firstly it had the effect of bringing the background city in nice and close to show that the cable car went over the forest from the city - no need to show acres of forest to get that effect. It also made the cable car nice and big as well. The narrow view meant I got rid of not-so attractive features to the left and right of the frame (which would have appeared in a wide angle shot) and, most importantly, I got rid of the boring foreground.

So if ever you end up looking at a beautiful landscape look down at your feet first. Is it interesting? Would it contribute to the story you want to tell? Grab the wide angle. Is it boring, lifeless or just plain ugly? Then reach for the telephoto lens and look out towards the horizon.


Dan said...

Good post Paul. I have to admit that my Sigma 10-20 is pretty much the only lens I'd consider for landscape work, but next time I'm out and about I'll give the 70-300 a try. Thanks for posting.

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Dan,

I love my wide-angle as well but the telephoto is really good for compressing the perspective and bringing far away things in nice and close. The trick is to learn to see like the telephoto and imagine where it would work really well.

The wide-angle will make those background mountains seem small and distant whereas the telephoto will make them look big and close

Good luck with it!