For the past three months I've been on the road exploring some of the most beautiful places in America. From the Wind River Range to see the Great American Eclipse, to Maroon Bells for the first snowfall of the season, to the Pacific Coast! Surprisingly, one of my most used lenses is the Tamron 150-600mm. Many would consider this a wildlife lens, but I've had great success using it for landscapes as well.
Recently, while exploring the mountains of Colorado, I've been using my 150-600mm for landscapes more than the 24-70mm or 14-24mm! I find the telephoto range shows the majesty of these incredible mountains! When using a wide angle lens, the mountains tend to appear small and forgettable. A telephoto lens, when used properly, can show the massive mountains towering over the landscape.
Keep in mind that a telephoto lens will compress vast distances. Mountains that are dozens of miles away suddenly fill the frame! In this image from Olympic national park, the distant mountains in Canada are now incorporated into the image. A standard focal length would not have been able to produce this effect. I have also been able to photograph mountains over 60 miles away using my 150-600mm!
Most epic landscape photos have a compelling foreground that draws the eye into the distance, whether that be flowers, rocks, or water. If you find yourself in a relatively boring area, with no interesting foreground, it's the perfect time to use your zoom lens! Personally, I tend to have trouble including a compelling foreground element in my wide-angle landscape photos. That's why I love using a telephoto lens, which allows me to create a unique composition without a close foreground.
I love using my 150-600mm on cloudy days in the mountains! The clouds slowly morphing, the occasional bursts of light. Stormy days always make for epic photos. When you are out in the field, look for storms!
Driving through Colorado has proved somewhat difficult in framing compelling compositions. Either there simply isn't a place to pull off the road, or the foreground is dull. Not to mention the mountains are usually miles and miles away. The 150-600mm solves that problem! Now those distant mountains look massive in the viewfinder! The unique focal length also provides many interesting compositions.
A telephoto lens will also increase the apparent size of the sun and moon. You can use this effect to capture some spectacular images! This photo was taken near Bend Oregon, during the smoky wild fire season. The sun was a pale red orb due to the thick wildfire smoke. Without the 150-600mm, this image would not have been possible!
Another benefit of using a telephoto lens is the ability to create high quality panoramas. Instead of taking one photo, you can zoom in on your subject and take multiple photos. The combined images will have a much higher resolution, perfect for large prints! I use Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) to blend all of my panoramas easily. It’s critical to put the camera to Manual Mode and try to keep the camera moving in a straight line as you take your photos. Of course, you’ll usually want to turn the camera to the Portrait orientation as well.
When photographing telephoto landscapes, a small aperture is unnecessary! Since the subject is usually very far away, depth of field is no longer a concern. Even at f/2.8, everything is likely to be sharp! No more shooting at f/16 to get everything in focus, or having to blend multiple photos in post processing.
As you use a telephoto lens to zoom way across a landscape, eventually you will notice a strange phenomenon. Your image is blurry, almost like it's boiling! It’s the same phenomenon you’d see over a hot road during the summer. Heat distortion. As the air heats up, it rises into the colder air. This causes refraction and leaves your images a blurry mess. You will likely notice this effect over large expanses, whether that be an open field or body of water basking in the sun. Keep in mind, this can happen during the winter too, since the effect is caused by a heat differential. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can really do to fix this situation.
A fast shutter speed is often required for telephoto landscapes as well. It’s important to remember the Reciprocal Rule, which states: The shutter speed should be the same as the focal length to reduce motion blur. Therefore, at 600mm the shutter speed should be at least 1/640s to help reduce any motion blur. Thankfully, most telephoto lenses have good stabilization. This really helps to keep the image sharp, with a slower shutter speed. Using a tripod will also help reduce this problem even further. Believe it or not, I’ve been able to get tack-sharp photos at 600mm at 1/50s using the built-in stabilization and a tripod.
Occasionally, the 150-600mm is simply too much lens! In this case, it's the perfect time for the 70-200mm! I had the opportunity to try out Tamron's latest 70-200mm for a few weeks on this trip. I found that it has great stabilization, fast autofocus, and is considerably lighter than the 150-600mm! Plus, with the constant f/2.8 aperture, low light is no longer an issue!
Using a telephoto lens, like the Tamron 150-600mm and 70-200mm, opens up a whole new world for landscape photographers! The next time you head out into the field, try using your telephoto lens. You might be surprised by what you are able to capture.