The tenderness of feeling a snow clad mountain peak bathed in golden light, experienced in person, is an emotion impossible to replicate. We human beings, however have an innate longing to capture our emotions in whichever way we can. This longing pushes us to write poetry, to paint, to sing and quite recently, to capture (using our cameras).
I had previously written a blog on the same topic, same can be accessed here.
So we photographers, see huge gold lit landscapes in front of us and the first thought we have is of capturing the immensely arresting scene in our cameras. Since it is vast scene, we put on wide angle lenses and shoot what we call as a Landscape image. First of all, let’s define Landscape Photography.
Landscape photography is technically defined as a suitable arrangement of the foreground, the middle ground and the background (mostly sharp) in a frame, in a way that pleases our eyes, and is normally taken with a Wide angle lens. We are however, so habitually bound by age old definitions, that most of the time we completely forget what it would mean to play around the definition and not follow it to a T.
When I first started shooting landscapes some years ago, I used to chug around with my then 18-55mm kit lens and scan places for landscapes. Even when I did my first Himalayan trek (18 days and 200Kms) to the remote interiors of the Himalayas (Nanda Raj Jat) I shot only Wide angle landscapes. It did not even occur remotely to me that I could possibly use a longer focal length to experiment with.
Now don’t get me wrong, the perspective provided by Wide angle and especially ultra-wide angle lenses are gorgeously amazing. With a very short focusing distance, ultra-wide angle lenses provide us with perspectives we might never even consider seeing when at the location.
Telephoto lenses, however, gives us a totally different perspective and we begin to find innumerable small landscapes, within a vast landscape. Minute details, like patterns, structures, shadow and light all are highly exaggerated when shooting using a telephoto lens. On a grey day, a particular landscape may look extremely boring, but put on a telephoto or even a super telephoto lens and one sees patterns invisible to the human eye.
Photography for me is just a medium to convey to the world, how I felt at that moment in time. I may have cried, may have laughed, might have awed, or might have simply stood speechless. Whatever the emotion, my camera is just a tool to represent that to the world in the form of an Image.
I am obsessed with shooting the Himalayas, especially the gold painted Himalayan peaks. Man, if only our limited vocabulary was capable of describing the emotions one feels when looking at a snow clad mountain peak. Standing in awe of the extravagance unfolding in-front, clueless as how to capture this emotion in the best way possible, I find telephoto lenses as my closest ally.
I remember many situations, when the landscape was dull and I was unable to come with an interesting composition using my wide angle lens. Switching to telephoto lens enabled me to see multiple compositions within a single wide angle shot. Himalayan peaks are extremely far away from wherever you shoot them, and the haze which is omnipresent in our atmosphere, seriously kills the quality of an image. Using telephoto lenses, we can zoom directly to the peak and the image does not requires too much cropping. After processing, we have an image extremely rich in details and colours, something which we will be lacking when shooting wide angle.
Also at times the object in the foreground is so dominant in the frame, that it completely takes away from the majestic peak i might be trying to show in the background. I also personally think that wide angle (at times), completely fail to convey the majestic nature of that mountain peak in the background.
Depth of Field is not usually a issue when shooting with telephoto lenses. The nearest mountain ridges are atleast a few kilometers away and at that distance everything from front to back is in tack sharp focus. However i tend not to use my lens at the widest aperture. The reason, not being depth of field, but mostly it’s about shooting at the sweetest spot of my lens. Since i use a f/5.6 lens, i shoot mostly around f/8 or f/9 for the sharpest results. Depending on the lens you use, usually stopping down one to two stops should give you the sharpest results possible. There are however, high end telephoto lenses which are tack sharp wide open (extremely costly though ?).
If you know the reciprocal rule of shutter speed, while hand-holding shots, the shutter speed should atleast be the reciprocal of whatever the focal length is. For example if you are using a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/300Sec or higher. You should also take the crop factor of your camera into consideration when not using a full frame (35mm) camera. So for Canon which has a crop factor of 1.6, the shutter speed for a 300mm lens should atleast be 1/480 Sec or higher. For Nikon which has a crop factor of 1.5x the shutter speed should be 1/450 Sec or higher. With Optical stabilization available in most lenses today, you can probably manage equally well with slower shutter speeds and still get tack sharp shots. This also depends on how stable one is, and while one may get very blurry shots at a particular speed, other may consistently get tack sharp images at the same shutter speed.
At higher focal lengths, even a slight shake is highly exaggerated and results in blurry images. I normally shoot telephoto on my tripod. Also the light in the evening and morning is extremely low, and one tends to get very slow shutter speeds. So if you intend to shoot telephoto, a sturdy tripod will be your best bet. Though difficult to carry, it provides you with tremendous flexibility to shoot in extremely low light conditions.
To summarize, to shoot or not to shoot with a telephoto is absolutely a personal choice. While wide angle, provide a stunning perspective of the overall landscape, telephoto provides breathtaking details of landscapes within the frame. For someone wide angle may be the go to lens. For others like me, who are obsessed with details, telephotos provide the much needed focal length for the job. None is superior or inferior to others and both are amazing. But if you love capturing minute details in nature, try putting on a telephoto when shooting landscapes next time. I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.
Do check out my upcoming expeditions here.