Why I Prefer Telephoto Lenses for Cityscapes

I’ve made this article as part of my recent podcast episode which you can listen below.

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What I’ve been up to – 00:34
News Topics – 04:05
Main topic – 13:47

Links:
Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE II Lens Announced for Sony E-Mount
Sony 16-35mm f/4 PZ G Series Power Zoom Lens Announced
Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S Lens Announced
Nikon Z9 Update is So Big, It Could Have Been a Whole New Camera

The Article

Tonight I went out to shoot a Cityscape for the first time since daylight savings ended.

I decided to use the Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 for the image above and I realized something interesting, I actually prefer telephotos for Cityscapes now. Now obviously this can change depending on the scene but I’d say in generally I just find the compressed look of telephoto landscapes/cityscapes much more pleasing.

Here are 3 reasons why I like them better.

Different Perspectives

One thing I really like about using telephoto lenses is that they allow for compositions that wouldn’t usually be possible with a wide angle lens.

For example you may have a certain spot you like but wouldn’t work with a UWA lens due to space. In these circumstances a telephoto lens really comes in handy. The two images below are good examples of when a telephoto lens is preferable.

Shot at 400mm
Shot at 85mm

As you can see with both locations there is water in front of the subject so shooting closer with a wide angle lens wouldn’t be possible. In saying that, there are also locations that you could technically shoot with a wide angle but getting further back and shooting with a tele can give a completely different look.

For example the image above shot at 400mm makes it look like a very small area which isn’t actually true. The bushes you can see in the foreground appear to be close but the distance between those trees and the boardwalk in the bottom left of the image is around 1.5-2km apart.

This is all thanks to the compression telephoto lenses provide which I personally really like. Wide angle lenses do the same but in reverse making objects look much further away than they are.

You Can Still Shoot ‘Wide’

Shooting with a telephoto lens may give the impression to some people that you will always be filling the frame which isn’t true.

When you’re shooting from a far distance with a tele zoom you can easily compose the image wider like to make it somewhat appear like you shot it with a UWA lens. This will still give you the compressed look that a telephoto lens has to offer but still give you plenty of negative space in the sky/water.

Telephoto lenses are also great for panorama’s like the image below that I took with a 100-400mm lens.

A panorama with a 100-400mm lens

If you still want to maintain the same 4:3 ratio, you can simply shoot wide with the panorama then crop it to a 4:3 ratio with the composition you like. The result will be a widely composed image with a more compressed and not distorted look.

Somewhat More Versatilie

Now this point is very location and lens dependent but I still believe it to be valid. If we purely consider zooms and not primes, I believe shooting from further with a telephoto lens gives you more versatility than a UWA lens up close.

With a UWA lens, if you get too far back you may find that objects in the frame are either too small with too much negative space or too large/distorted if you are too close. For UWA lenses I personally feel you need to have the right distance and composition for them to work like in the image below as an example.

Shot at 16mm

Sadly UWA lenses don’t always work but there’s an exception to every rule and your creativity is that exception. Now back to my previous point of cityscapes, as they are generally outdoors you can get a bit more creative with composition and spacing.

If you are someone that likes to crop, a telephoto lens would likely make it easier for you. Assuming you are able to shoot from far enough back, you can always either zoom in on the day or crop in later in post.

With a UWA lens if you are as far back as you can possibly get, you can’t just take the shot and crop out. Using a UWA lens for panoramas is also possible but you may have more issues with distortion if you choose this method.

No lens or technique is perfect but for me personally, I find shooting further away with a long focal length to be more interesting in some circumstances and easy to deal with.

Should You Avoid UWA Lenses Altogether?

The easy answer is no. UWA lenses and even standard/wide angle lenses all have their own uses and place in your bag.

I’ve just found after years of owning them and Sydney’s land structure being the way it is, 35mm is probably the widest I need for 90% of the images I take. I still own a UWA lens as when you have a location that works well with them then they are invaluable.

Experimenting with different lenses is important for your photography and if you haven’t considered or tried using a telephoto lens for your cityscapes/landscapes, I encourage you to give them a try.

Thanks for reading/listening and please make sure to subscribe if you want to see more content like this.

One response to “Why I Prefer Telephoto Lenses for Cityscapes”

  1. RB Avatar
    RB

    The ‘Shot at 400mm’ picture is a good one and has some of that Andreas Feininger quality, where the true scale of the skyscrapers is revealed – dwarfing the ships and people in the foreground.

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