Wide-angle lenses are often considered the go-to lens for landscape photography; however, sometimes they are also useless, and the telephoto lens is the one to use.
Two important skills when you do landscape photography is, obviously to recognize the good photo, but equally as important, is it to adjust to the conditions. Sometimes you might have an idea for a photo that requires a wide-angle lens but if the desired light does not manifest, or the light behaves differently than what you expected, adapting is necessary to benefit from the conditions you are given. Adapting to the changing environment and light could be changing settings, position, perspective, or lens.
In the above video, I document two photography sessions, where I set out to get a specific wide-angle photo, however, it did not go as I hoped for. The light and conditions were fantastic but they simply did not fit what I could catch with my wide-angle lens.
In the first session, I wanted a wide-angle photo of a lone tree on the side of the road. The sky was vibrant with colors and the clouds looked pretty good… near the horizon. The wide-angle lens was a terrible choice for the conditions I was given as it included way too much of the sky and the foreground was arguably a bit boring and messy.
Instead of waiting around and hoping for something to happen, I adapted to the conditions. By moving about 50 meters back and using a longer focal length, I could exclude both the boring foreground, the part of the sky I did not need, and fill the frame with the flaming colors of the clouds closer to the horizon, all the while controlling the proportions of the tree in the photo. This technique is called “perspective compression.” By moving back, you change your perspective with the result of the tree looking smaller relative to the background, and by using a longer focal length you can crop the field of view and only include what you want to have within the frame.
In the second session, I went to a hill I have visited many times during my life. I did get a good wide-angle lens photo, but it was when the unexpected atmospheric conditions happened after sunset it became really fun. It had rained most of the day and fog started to materialize in the surrounding forests. With this evaporation the many, many layers of the forests became visible. I have never really seen such a phenomenon in Denmark, but it reminded me very much of the Smoky Mountains in the US or somewhere more known for landscape photography.
The wide-angle lens did not work for this kind of photography, as I really needed the reach of the longer focal lengths to catch all the layers of the forests. Since I had somewhat of a distance between the forests and myself, you could also argue that perspective compression was at play here.
The lesson is; had I stuck to my initial plan of getting the wide-angle photo and had not brought the long lens I would not have got these other photos.
I got some of my all-time favorite high contrast black and white photos from this session and in the above video, I show how I caught them and talk about the settings.
Have you benefited from bringing a telephoto lens to a shoot, where you only expected to use a wide-angle lens? Let me hear below.