December 4, 2019

Lenses for Landscape Photography

What is the right lens to use when you’re heading out to take landscape photographs?

I’m often asked what are the best lenses for landscape photography. Many people expect the response to be a wide-angle lens. We often see stunning wide vistas capturing a view almost 180 degrees and certainly, this has a place. However, it’s a good idea to understand how using different lenses and focal distances can affect how your photographs will look.

To prove the point, each year I produce a calendar of landscape photography. My initial shortlist of 42 photographs used four different lenses. The split of these lenses was as follows;

11-24mm1
16-35mm22
24-70mm17
70-200mm2

The final 13 photographs used in the calendar resulted in this split;

16-35mm3
24-70mm8
70-200mm2

 

I am really proud of this year’s calendar. You can see that the majority of the best 13 photographs were taken in the middle range of 24-70mm. Let’s look at examples of each lens and understand why it was a good choice for the particular image.

Wide Angle Lenses for Landscape Photography

I shoot with a full-frame camera so I would refer to a wide-angle lens as being between 16-35mm. The benefit of this lens is that it can give a huge field of vision. I recently visited a great scene in Essex which was an ancient forest of oak trees. This first view gives us a wide perspective across the field of trees.

I was stood around 3 meters from the tree on the right-hand side and was still able to fit from the roots to the top of the tree into the frame. However, the other trees are much smaller in the scene. This is despite the gap between each tree is around 5 to 8 meters. So, the first impact of a wide-angle lens is that it will tend to make objects appear further apart that we actually see them.

The second impact of a wide-angle lens is how they can distort the image. In order to get the entire front tree in the frame, I needed to point the camera upwards slightly. This gives the front tree great impact. However, look at the tree on the left and the cow-shed. The impact of using a wide-angle lens, particularly when not pointing it straight forward is distortion on the edges of the image.

In the calendar, I used the wide-angle to capture the lovely remains of Dundrennan Abbey. I was happy to allow the distortion of the abbey because it also allowed me to use a long exposure to create the rushing clouds effect. The distortion, I think, gives some extra impact.

Mid-Range Lenses for Landscape Photography

The mid-range for a full-frame camera is 24-70mm. We tend to ‘see’ in this focal range. This means that photographs taken at around 50mm will appear on the back of the camera in the same way that we see them through the lens. You can see from the image below taken at the oak trees that whilst the centre tree is the focal point, the other trees have more impact than in the previous image.

There is still likely to be some distortion on images taken in this range, particularly at the wider end. However, it will be much less than using the wide-angle lens.

A good example of using this lens in the calendar is this shot of Neist Point on the Isle of Skye. The longer length of the lens makes the lighthouse a good focal point in the image without making it so small that it gets lost in the Atlantic Ocean.

Long Lenses for Landscape Photography

The 70-200mm is the last of the lenses for landscape photography that I use. The advantage of a long lens is that it can make objects appear closer together. It will also reduce the amount of distortion seen at the edge of images.

At the trees, I was able to zoom quite tightly onto a detail of one of the trees. As a result, the other trees in the scene appear to be closer together. However, by using the longer lens we also reduce the depth of field. The trees at the back of the scene have started to blur.

In the calendar, I was able to use the long lens to capture this shot across Edinburgh’s skyline. The long lens has made the buildings in the Old Town feel much closer together. The shot was taken from Sailsbury Crags. As a result, the depth of field does not become an issue giving sharpness from front to back.

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