In the same way that an artist’s arsenal of paintbrushes allows them to change the way a canvas looks, photographers have an assortment of lenses at their disposal. Wide-angle shots, close-ups, isolating subjects, and keeping the entire scene in or out of focus are all possible with these lenses. Compared to studio or portrait photography, lenses in landscape photography are one of the few ways you can truly impart your personal vision into an image, giving you the added benefit of being able to adjust the subject to suit your intentions.
Landscape photographers should think about the practicality of the lenses they use as well as how they portray a natural setting. Lenses should be selected with similar care as cameras for landscape photography, as there are a variety of unique factors to take into account.
1. Focal Length
A wide-angle lens is a good place to start when shopping for a lens for landscape photography. Wide-angle lenses are ideal for landscape photography because of their wide field of view and shallow depth of field, which are both desirable for general landscape purposes. They allow you to include the entire mountain in your background, and they can be used to show a large amount of land and sky while distorting or skewing perspective for dramatic effect. When photographing vast swaths of land, their shallow depth of field helps keep everything in sharp focus from foreground to background.
In spite of the fact that wide-angle lenses are considered the industry standard for landscape photography, you should still consider using normal and telephoto lenses when capturing scenery. Using a telephoto lens to extend your reach or compress your images can sometimes be beneficial for attracting attention to your work. When using normal-length lenses, there’s no reason not to capture a scene with the same field of view that you see it from. Instead of surveying the field with a camera strapped to your face, you likely stopped at a specific location because of the way it looked to your eyes. Longer focal lengths can be a creative advantage when isolating specific parts of a scene and drawing the attention of the viewer to them.
Despite the fact that many lenses are sought after because of their bright maximum aperture, many landscape photographers do not need to pay as much attention to this area. Photographers of landscapes, as opposed to those of portraits or available-light events, prefer to use a wider depth of field when composing their images rather than using an extreme selective focus or shooting handheld in low light.
Landscape photographers frequently work in the f/5.6 to f/16 aperture range, so a fast f/1.4 lens isn’t essential. When shooting handheld, the use of a tripod encourages you to use smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds. These lenses are smaller and lighter than the f/1.4 equivalents of the same focal length, making them more suitable for packing in a backpack for an adventure in the backcountry. You can save money by using f/2.8 lenses instead of f/1.4 versions of the same focal length
3. Zoom Or prime ?
The debate over zooms vs. primes will continue to rage, and it’s particularly vibrant in the landscape photography community. What are the advantages of using a zoom lens? When you’re in a confined space, it’s obvious that you have the ability to zoom into a landscape (think shooting from an observation deck at a national park). By contrast to zooms that allow you to get comfortable with how you photograph an area, prime lenses force you to explore and seek out more rewarding locations for landscape photography. You can “zoom” by moving your feet quickly.
Currently, the differences in image quality between zooms and primes are largely moot—both high-quality zooms and high-quality primes are available. While zoom lenses like Canon’s EF 11-24mm f/4L USM and Nikon’s NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S are fantastic, some of the shorter focal lengths, like the no-holds-barred Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 or the delightfully compact Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, really shine as prime lenses. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing between lenses: the amount of access you have to walk around a subject; the weight and number of lenses you can carry; and your personal preference for focal length (long or short).
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED Lens
4. Auto Or Manual Focus ?
Like film cameras, manual focus lenses are “technologically outdated” but still extremely useful and desirable to landscape photographers, despite the fact that shooting in digital format has many advantages. An autofocus lens’ advantages are self-evident: it focuses automatically, quickly, and with reasonable accuracy in most cases. It can also be manually focused. How can a manual focus lens benefit someone? Have a sense of it and have some control over it.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
With most autofocus lenses, you can manually fine-tune the focus by using electronics instead of real mechanical action (this is called focus by wire). Without mechanical linkage, you can’t turn a focus ring quickly, smoothly or relatively far without affecting how the focus moves. This is an important drawback. In addition to better tactile control when changing focusing points, mechanical manual focus lenses have a smoother, more refined focus mechanism. The need for speed when focusing on landscapes usually takes a back seat to accuracy, and good eyesight or a well-tuned diopter will often lead to the best results when using manual focus. The hard infinity stops and depth-of-field scales that are typically found on the lens barrels of manual focus lenses are also an advantage. When used with hyperfocal focusing techniques, these tools will help you achieve the widest possible depth of field.
5. Other Lens Considerations For Landscape Photography
+ Weather Resistance
It is critical if you’re going to be working outside in inclement weather that your workspace is weather-sealed. A weather-sealed lens will protect against light rain, sea spray, snow, and sand even if it isn’t completely waterproof.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II Lens
+ Tilt-Shift Lenses
Tilt-shift lenses let you alter perspective, minimize distortion, and change the image’s plane of focus without the bulk and weight of a full large-format kit like those used by view camera shooters. When photographing tall, vertical objects like trees, these lenses can be used to achieve a truly wide depth of field while also correcting convergence.
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens
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6. Evaluate Your Old Pictures
Taking a look at previous photos is a great way to decide on a good lens.
What are the current patterns that you’ve noticed?
For landscape photography, I prefer using telephoto lenses. That has been crystal clear to me for some time. Looking through my old photos, however, made me realize just how many landscapes I had taken with a telephoto lens.
I used a telephoto lens for 15 of my best landscape photos, a wide-angle lens for 21, and a medium lens for 4. Most landscape photographers use wide-angle lenses to get the most out of their subjects, but I ended up using more telephoto lenses than I expected. That epiphany acted as a major catalyst in my quest for the best possible one.
Open a collection of landscape photos in your image management software and crunch the numbers for yourself. Sort your top 40-60 landscape photos based on the focal length of your lens or the aperture of your camera (which nearly all software can do). Look at the data you’ve gathered and see how it stacks up against your expectations.
Keep an open mind when looking at the results, especially if you have not purchased a specific type of lens yet (which would skew your data). The process should provide a good foundation for understanding your most common landscape photography requirements if you have lenses that cover a wide range of focal lengths
NIKON D810 + 70-200mm f/4 @ 200mm, ISO 140, 1/800, f/7.1
I love the scale that telephoto lenses allow.
7. Try Renting A Lens (or Borrowing from a Friend)
Try out a lens whenever you get the chance, even if you don’t think it will be useful. Most likely, you’ll gain some useful knowledge from this.
Just because you’re told to “try it out” doesn’t mean you should just go ahead and use it for a few minutes before returning it. That’s not going to teach you anything.
Instead, take it along with you when you go on a photoshoot to capture the landscape. Put your faith in it. Do everything you can to make use of it.
If you do that, you’ll never run out of new information to learn. Years ago, despite the fact that I had never used a 50mm lens before, I went on a week-long photography trip to put it to the test. What did I learn? That, at least for the time being, a 50mm lens does not suit my approach to landscape photography.
Everything else is a matter of taste. 50mm lenses are popular among landscape photographers, and it’s easy to see why. In any case, because I tried out this focal length myself, I learned something about the gear that helped me plan future trips – and gear purchases.
So, set an example for yourself and try to achieve it. Perhaps a new lens will delight you, or perhaps your old kit will serve you just fine. What matters most is that your knowledge of the equipment will increase, and this will have a positive impact on your overall landscape photography skills.
NIKON D810 + 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm, ISO 3200, 25 seconds, f/2.8
For a recent landscape photography trip, I tried out a new wide-angle lens (the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8) that I wasn’t sure about. Turns out, it shines in certain scenarios – especially nighttime photography – more than I expected. It’s now my primary wide-angle lens.
8. What Feels Right ?
Sometimes, it’s best to trust your instincts and go with what feels right. If you’re stumped as to which lens to use, go with the one that feels natural to you. It doesn’t matter if it appears strange on paper, the best lens for you will always be the one you enjoy using most.
To be clear, this advice isn’t appropriate in every situation. A lot of the time, your “gut feeling” is influenced by marketing, reviews, forums, and other factors, and as a result, the lens you choose may be completely inappropriate for your needs without you even realizing it. Although seeing through all of this is the goal, doing so is not always simple.
However, instinct plays a significant role in the lens choices you make the majority of the time. Selecting a lens is inseparable from what you believe internally to be the correct choice. Many people will base their final decision on the option that feels right, even if there are several other viable options available to them as well.
To a large extent, photography relies on intuition. Composing a photograph is a lot like trying to assemble a solid message from a jumbled mess. Something like that requires a great deal of ingenuity and gut instinct. Lenses are no different, so why make a big deal about it? If a lens appears to meet all your needs, but you hate the idea of using it, you’re not going to take it with you when you’re out shooting, and you won’t be motivated to experiment with it.
People who shoot with manual focus lenses or vintage, scratched-up equipment do so for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, they’ll get better results with “low quality” gear than they will with a more expensive option. You’ll take better pictures if you use your camera more often if it inspires or interests you.
In other words, don’t be afraid to go with your gut when choosing a lens for landscape photography.
NIKON D810 + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 100mm, ISO 180, 1/500, f/10.0
Choosing the best lenses for landscape photography can be difficult for many photographers. It’s an important decision, no doubt. Every photograph you take relies on the lens you’re using. A camera’s creative capabilities are greatly influenced by its lenses.
Nevertheless, don’t waste too much time second-guessing yourself. If you consider your personal photographic style, the answer to this question will become crystal clear. Do you prefer telephoto lenses or teleconverters? Do you have a favorite set of focal lengths? To what extent does the weight of your lens matter in the scenarios you’ll face?
These types of questions are simple to answer, and answering them will allow you to eliminate a large number of possibilities. In the end, trust your instincts if all else fails. Photography is a deeply personal art form, and your relationship with a particular lens can have a significant impact on your ability to find inspiration and create better images.