When you think about landscape photography lenses, many photographers think only about wide-angle lenses. Classic lenses such as a 14-24mm f/2.8 or 24-70mm f/2.8 are popular optics for landscapes.

This is with good reason — they’re fantastic options. However, it’s worth having a longer lens in your landscape photography kit, too.

Why use a long lens for landscape photography?

Many of the best landscape photos you see online or when browsing Instagram are impressive, sweeping vistas. When your subject is so massive, it makes sense to use a wide lens to capture as much of the scene as possible.

However, there are times when you may capture too much of a good thing. A wide lens can often deliver a cluttered composition that is far too busy. Simply put, a wide field of view can make it difficult to focus on key aspects of a scene.

This image was captured using a 100mm lens on a medium format camera, resulting in a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 79mm. A wider lens would have captured too much of the foreground while not being able to capture the detail in the background, which helps give the scene depth and scale.

Sometimes, capturing a huge area is precisely the ideal course of action. However, I think that it’s all too easy to capture too much with a “traditional” landscape lens.

Take a 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, for example. If you are photographing a scene at 14mm on a full frame camera, that’s a 114-degree field of view. The result is a lot of elements within the scene and many more considerations when composing a photograph. 

Different compositions and perspectives

The primary reason I always have a long lens with me when doing landscape photography is to capture different compositions. Compared to a wide-angle lens, a telephoto lens offers a very different perspective and thus creates dramatically different images. A telephoto lens allows you to focus on smaller elements within a larger scene.

I often use a telephoto lens to find the photo within a photo, so to speak. It can be challenging to find patterns and structure within a scene when using a wide lens. A long lens can make this much easier, especially when trying to bring a potential composition closer to you.

This image was captured using a 400mm lens with a 2x teleconverter, for an effective focal length of 800mm. Without a telephoto lens, this image would have been impossible due to the terrain between me and the subject.

The strongest elements in a scene cannot always be captured with a wide-angle lens. A longer lens allows the photographer to place emphasis on different objects within a scene. In the next section, I’ll discuss using a long lens to bypass natural obstacles. However, you can also use a long lens to shoot past a boring foreground. An interesting foreground is a critical component of many great landscape photos, but sometimes there simply isn’t an interesting foreground element nearby. By using a telephoto lens, you can turn a more distant object into a foreground element in your composition.

A wide-angle lens makes the distance between foreground elements and your background appear greater in your image. A telephoto lens, on the other hand, sort of compresses the perspective in your image, so to speak. It can make distant objects appear closer together. Using a telephoto lens also results in elements having a more natural perspective, rather than making foreground elements appear very large in your frame.

Bypassing natural obstacles

There are frequently obstacles to overcome when photographing landscapes. Sometimes these obstacles are physical and cannot be overcome. When photographing along the rocky Maine coast, for example, I cannot simply walk into the Atlantic to get closer to a subject. If I want a tighter frame, I need a long lens.

This is a common reason to use a longer lens when photographing landscapes. There are times when it’s either too dangerous or impossible to navigate all the terrain around you to get closer to a subject. This is a time when a long lens can be a huge help.

Tips and tricks for using a telephoto lens for landscape photography

There are certain situations when I’m much more likely to want a telephoto lens for landscape photography. I’ve already discussed using a long lens to bypass natural obstacles or to create a more interesting composition. I also use a telephoto lens when the sky is boring or doesn’t fit the mood of the image I want to make. It’s very difficult to compose an image with minimal sky when using a wide-angle lens.

This image was captured at 126mm on a Fujifilm GFX 50S, resulting in an effective focal length of 100mm. By using a long lens, I was able to capture a layered composition focused on the two rocks, one in the foreground and the other out in the ocean. A wide-angle image captured here would have made the background rock appear tiny relative to the rock in the foreground.

Another common use case for a telephoto lens in landscape photography is when trying to isolate an object within a scene. For example, suppose you want to photograph a single tree against a background. If you are using a lens with a short focal length, such as a 24mm lens, you will need to get very close to the tree and it will appear disproportionately large in your frame compared to its surroundings.

If I had tried to capture this image using a wide-angle lens, I would have had a lot of the sky in the frame. I didn’t want the sky as the background, but rather wanted the shadows on the snow behind the branches. The only way to achieve this was with a telephoto lens. In this case, the image was captured at a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 130mm.


While many of my landscape images have been captured with focal lengths ranging from 14mm to 35mm, there are plenty of my favorites that have been shot at 50mm, 70mm, 200mm and sometimes even 400mm. Without a telephoto lens in my bag, I would have missed out on many different landscape photography opportunities.

The next time you’re out photographing, and a scene isn’t jumping out at you with a wide-angle lens, consider using a telephoto lens. Sometimes there’s a great photo right there waiting for you, you just need to bring it closer.