Landscape with a Long Lens

I mainly do landscape photography shooting with a wide lens. Sometimes it is useful to use a longer lens to pick out details and simplify the composition. I have recently been watching youtube videos from photographers about going out and shooting with just a long lens to force yourself to focus on different sorts of shots. So, on Saturday morning I went hiking at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and one of my goals was to only shoot long. I also took some waterfall shots with a wide lens, but that is a different subject.

So, I attached my 70-200mm to the camera and started hiking. With such wide-open landscapes in front of you, it is kind of hard to pick out details that would fit with a long focal length. This is definitely something that I am not practiced with, so these may not be my best photos of the year.

My first idea was this little bird perched on a branch amid tall golden grasses in the dawn light. This image is a bit of a crop and I was unable to get as close as I wanted without spooking the bird. My goal was the silhouette of bird and the golden brown grass against the sky. Perhaps it works, but I could have used a bigger bird.

Bird among the grasses at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Nikon D750 +Sigma 70-200mm, f/2.8; 200mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO100

I next came across a cactus through the trees catching the morning sun on its needles. I have seen this effect several times and it always looks better to my eye than it does in a photo. The cactus has almost a golden glow outlining it, but this does not really seem to translate well in a photo. Next time I will also schedule a deer to go jumping through the scene as I hit the shutter.

Cactus in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Nikon D750 +Sigma 70-200mm, f/2.8; 95mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO100

There is an unusual looking hill in the NWR that I wanted to try a few shots of as well. It is almost a hill upon a hill and it always seems a bit out of place to me. There were also some low clouds in the distance.

Hill in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Nikon D750 +Sigma 70-200mm, f/2.8; 70mm, f/8, 1/320s, ISO100

This composition seemed a bit boring to me so I tried to incorporate a tree or two and get down lower to get more of the long grass in the foreground.

Hill in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Nikon D750 +24-120mm, f/4; 50mm, f/8, 1/400s, ISO100

You may notice that the focal lengths continue to drop. It is really hard to force yourself to shoot long focal lengths for landscapes. I had hope to use the depth-of-field compression to my advantage for some shots, but I wasn’t able to pull that off.

This part of the trail is called the Indian Grass trail and finding myself amid the tall golden grasses in the early morning light, I had to squat down and try to get a low perspective from the trail as I really enjoy the long grasses in the morning sunlight.

Indian Grass Trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Nikon D750 +24-120mm, f/4; 40mm, f/8, 1/400s, ISO100

This was probably my favorite shot from the outing as it makes me want to go hiking down the trail around the curve. It was shot at 40mm focal length, which is not wide at all, so you can see I didn’t stick with my long focal-length plan the entire hike.

I did enjoy the golden brown grasses along the trails, but found them difficult to portray in a photograph. Perhaps some colors need to be experienced first hand. As always, it is nice to get out and alone on a cool morning with my camera. The stream and little waterfall are just down the path near the distant trees.

Along the main trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Nikon D750 +24-120mm, f/4; 24mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO100

And this photo gets back to 24mm, where I seem to want to shoot.  I will try again next time for detail shots. It is good to reach out of your comfort zone so that you see things with a different eye. I think that next time, I will leave the rest of my lenses behind and just take the long lens and take more time working details.

Thanks for reading.


6 thoughts on “Landscape with a Long Lens

  1. Hi Jason, I can only agree absolutely with your points, I also used to think of landscape photography as intimately related to wide angle lenses. after starting to watch Thomas Heaton’s videos I learned about the possibilities a long lens gives us. I am using a 70-200 mm too and I see that I mostly rely on it for my landscape images.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It definitely requires a different way of thinking. I am going to practice more as I get the chance.

      When I go hiking, I generally don’t want to carry all of my lenses as this is too heavy, so I generally grab the wider lens. I am going to make myself go with the longer lens from time to time and try to make that work.

      Thanks for you comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Certainly heavy gear is a point to have in mind, I chose the canon 70-200mm f4 as it is a rather light lens, as I always shoot with a tripod I didn’t mind the loss of light.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I have a Sigma 70-200mm, f/2.8 and being a Sigma and a wide aperture lens, it is quite heavy and bulky. I don’t often need to shoot down to f/2.8, so I probably would have been better off with a lighter lens like yours.


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