Environmental Portraiture with a Telephoto Lens

Nature photographers know that shooting beautiful environmental portraiture isn’t always as calming and serene as the final product looks. As Benjamin Von Wong shares in the video below, he and his model had to brave below-freezing temperatures (9 degrees Celsius), icy water, and difficult terrain for their photo shoot at Albion Falls in Hamilton, Ontario:

To get the otherworldly atmosphere he wanted, Von Wong used a Nikon D4 with a 400 mm f/2.8G lens and a 1/10th of a second shutter speed to capture the smooth flow of the falls while simultaneously keeping his model, dancer Michael Demski, in sharp relief. Although framing the shot with a telephoto lens required Von Wong to do some serious hiking in order to achieve enough distance from his subject, the worthwhile result was a series of epic shots of his model-turned-ancient-warrior against a backdrop of ethereal waterfalls.

environmental portraiture with waterfalls

Waterfall portrait

There are several advantages to shooting with a super telephoto prime:

  • Subject and background are compressed, creating a unique two-dimensional view of your scene
  • When aperture is wide open, subject really pops against a distant background
  • Background blurs very nicely creating that lovely bokeh
telephoto portrait

Portrait captured using a 400mm lens

“Dealing with a 400/2.8 gives you an amazing ability to compress perspective into an almost surreal, two-dimensional image while still allowing your subject to leap into focus because of the shallow depth of field.”

Of course, the obvious disadvantage to using such a long lens is that you have to be very far from your subject. This lens is definitely not one to be used in a studio. However, the fact that you have to be so far away from your subject to shoot can open the way for some creative and unique shots. For instance, Von Wong was able to shoot his subject sitting on top of a waterfall. This is something that you could never do with a 50mm lens.

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One Comment

  1. JOM says:

    9 degrees celsius is not below freezing. Freezing is 0 degrees.

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