Creating Telephoto Foliage Images

This article shares a selection of telephoto foliage images, and discusses some of the issues that can be considered when composing this type of photograph.

Like many photographers I often focus my creative energies on blossoms rather than on foliage. I enjoy the additional colours and textures. Depending on the season this can be challenging in terms of flower blossom availability. In the fall, I often shift my focus to foliage.

One thing is consistent during this shift in seasonal subject matter. My lens of choice is a long telephoto zoom… often coupled with a teleconverter.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 240mm, efov 480mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-2000, subject distance 2.4 metres

If some of the comments in photography chat rooms are to be believed, it is “impossible” to create shallow depth-of-field when using a smaller sensor camera like M4/3. This is simply not true. All you need to do is examine the telephoto foliage images in this article for examples.

Regardless of the camera we own, it is imperative that we understand how to best use it to achieve our desired results. It is true that it can be easier to achieve shallow depth-of-field with a larger sensor camera. The flip side of that coin is that it can be easier to achieve deeper depth-of-field with a smaller sensor camera.

As we’ve often stated on this blog… every camera comes with some kind of trade-off. One format isn’t necessarily better than another. The key is for each of us to use camera gear that best suits our individual needs.

For those of us who use smaller sensor cameras there are some simple things we can do to help create shallow depth-of-field with our foliage images:

1) Use a longer focal length lens.
2) Find a shooting angle that puts the background further away from the subject in your composition.
3) Use the most open aperture available.

When we remember to do these things, it can be quite easy to create shallow depth-of-field when using a smaller sensor camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-640, subject distance 920mm

Using a longer focal length lens enables us to take advantage of a narrower angle of view. This is true regardless of the size of the sensor in our camera. Using a narrower angle of view may allow us to more easily isolate individual flowers, a leaf, or a group of leaves in a composition. In the photograph above you can see how I was able to isolate a single drop of water on a leaf from almost one metre (~3 feet) away.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 146mm, efov 292mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-320, subject distance 1.5 metres

While the angles of view of identical focal length lenses (e.g. 70-300mm zooms) are the same regardless of camera format, the field-of-views differ by camera sensor size. This is because field-of-view considers the camera’s sensor size (i.e. crop factor) as well as the properties of the lens affixed to it.

On a Nikon APS-C body the equivalent field-of-view of a 70-300mm zoom would be 105-450mm (1.5X crop). With a M4/3 body it would be 140-600mm (2X crop). And, 189-810mm on a Nikon 1 body (2.7X crop).

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 212mm, efov 424mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-800, subject distance 3.8 metres

Various depth-of-field calculators can be found on the internet. I assume there are also apps available for Smartphones. You can check these out for yourself to see how depth-of-field is directly impacted by lens focal length, aperture, and focusing distance.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194mm, efov 388mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-1000, subject distance 2.2 metres

When creating telephoto foliage images it is important to consider how you intend to create shallow depth-of-field and subject separation. Think about the aperture you intend to use, as well as the focal length of your lens. Consider the focusing distance from your camera to the subject. And, the distance from the subject to the background. All of these factors can impact the depth-of-field in your images.

I appreciate that foliage images may not be appealing subject matter to some photographers. I enjoy creating telephoto foliage images mainly because I love working with them in post as potential subjects for photo art modifications.

The following photo art versions provide some examples of my experimentations in post. Like many people, I sometimes prefer a standard image over the photo art version.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 240mm, efov 480mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-2000, subject distance 2.4 metres
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300mm, efov 600mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-640, subject distance 920mm

And, there are occasions when I prefer a photo art treatment over the original image.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 146mm, efov 292mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-320, subject distance 1.5 metres
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 212mm, efov 424mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-800, subject distance 3.8 metres
Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 194mm, efov 388mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-1000, subject distance 2.2 metres

One approach is not necessarily better than another… just different.

By-the-way, all of the images in this article were captured during long pauses in the action during a bird photography outing at Hendrie Valley.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. They were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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