When most think of landscape photography, the imagery that dominates their imaginations typically involve vast open spaces, sweeping vistas, and generally the encapsulating of a very wide field of view within a single frame. Thus, the lenses people associate with landscapes tend to be wide to very wide. They have probably also known a great many people who buy their first DSLRs strictly for their love of landscape photography, and their very next purchase is a wide lens with which to shoot it. This, in my opinion, is a mistake.
First off, let’s just mention once more that the point of shooting wide, of using a wide angle lens, isn’t to ‘get it all in’ as most tend to think. Well, it’s not the only or even the most prominent use, and I encourage you to think of a wide lens as a lens that allows you to get closer while maintaining much of a scene within the frame.
Secondly, longer lenses (fixed or zooms), are often the lenses used to take many of the nature and scenery shots you’ve admired over the years. I’d wager than many of those images you favored were appealing to you because they made you feel as if you were there, right there in the mix, and that’s something a telephoto is actually brilliant at.
You probably understand by now that lens compression is a thing, and the compression from longer glass – telephotos – is great for portraits. This is simply because the compression can make things in the foreground, like a nose, seem a bit more closely related in size to items a bit further away than a wide lens would, even though technically something closer should look disproportionately larger. Well this function does well for landscapes too, since the telephoto has the inherit ability to bring you close and into the arena of the subject, and on top of that correct for some of the distortion of sizes that wide lenses give.
In addition, the sense of bringing the background a bit closer, while it does in a sense distort the sense of depth, can do a different kind of magic for scale. In the video below, photographer Mike Browne does a great and concise job of verbally and visually demonstrating how nice a telephoto can be for landscapes, and honestly you can get beautiful shots like this with really inexpensive gear. You don’t need to be shooting at f/2.8 as he chooses to.
If this is something you’re more interested in, let me know in the comments, and I’ll be happy to dive into it further with you. And if you are starting out or planning on it, or you want to be educated with the foundation you may never have had or completed, take a look at Photography 101; it may just be the perfect foundational block you’ve been looking for.
Find more from Mike from his site.