When it comes to landscape photography, choosing one lens over the other depends on the individual photographer, the personal style, and what the photographer likes to photograph.
In fact, like photography in general, landscape photography is a way to express your creativity by capturing the world in the way you see and interpret it, expressing your emotions in front of the beauty of nature.
The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!Ansel Adams
It is crucial to master the two-dimensional nature of photography in landscape photography. You want the medium of photography to serve your narrative and storytelling. Therefore, one critical aspect is choosing the right lens to take your landscape photos.
On full-frame sensor cameras, a wide-angle lens is a 16-35mm focal length, and on a crop-sensor camera is something like a 12-24mm focal length. So with a wide-angle lens, especially at its wider focal length, you can put in your image a considerable sense of depth. With this kind of lens, you can put so much into the frame: for example, sky and distant mountain peaks. You can also use elements from the foreground to give much interest to your image. A wide angle lens in landscape photography gives an epic feel to the photograph.
How you see a scene standing in front of it is entirely different from how you see a photograph captured through a wide-angle lens.
I love the natural distortion that comes with a wide-angle lens. You can use it to your benefit and use it creatively. For example, you can make things in your foreground appear substantively larger and make mountains in the background appear taller. With a wide-angle lens, the stuff in the background (for example, mountains or threes) seems further away. A downside of wide-angle lenses is that this lens is weather dependent. It is better to capture a photograph with an interesting cloudy sky than just a blue one.
On the other hand, if you have a telephoto lens, you can get closer to your subject and take out the sky from the frame. If the weather is not cooperating during your shoot, you can always put a long lens and capture something more in the details. Unfortunately, the weather in landscape photography sometimes is not cooperating.
On other occasions, you may not have anything interesting to capture in the foreground while shooting a landscape with a wide-angle lens. For example, this may happen on the beach or when there is only grass on the ground. In all these cases, maybe you can try to use a telephoto lens if you have one with you.
You may want to use a telephoto lens for your landscape photographs for the opposite reason you use a wide-angle lens. With a telephoto, you can go more on the detail than with your wide-angle lens, and the image compression you get is impressive. But, on the other hand, with the telephoto, you don’t get the impression that you can jump into the photograph as you feel while looking at an image captured with your wide-angle lens. Therefore, probably most photographers use more wide-angle lenses than telephoto lenses.
But there are situations when wide-angle lenses don’t work to capture your landscape images. Sometimes you need to capture a portion of the scene, and that is when you need a telephoto lens. A telephoto lens is any lens over 50mm focal length on a full-frame sensor camera and over 35mm focal length on a crop-sensor camera.
The telephoto lens is great for bringing the scene closer to you rather than pushing everything away.
Telephoto lenses compress the perspective. On the contrary, wide-angle lenses increase the distance between the foreground elements (which seem very close) and the background elements that appear very far away than they are in reality. The telephoto does the opposite, compressing the perspective and squeezing everything together. As a result, sometimes, you can use your telephoto to create a sort of an abstract feeling in your photographs.
The compression of perspective of a telephoto lens works even better when the weather condition is foggy or hazy. In fact, the telephoto lens separates the different parts of the scene, reinforcing the perception of layers in the landscape image. This work particularly well when the mist is backlit.
The telephoto lens works excellent also to make a minimal and abstract composition. The telephoto force you to step away from trying to get everything into the frame, forcing you to focus on the essential elements of the scene. Removing everything is not particularly important.
Because the telephoto limit how much of the scene you can see in the photograph, it encourages you to decide which are the most critical elements to select through the frame. Good landscape pictures taken with a telephoto lens will include only the basic and essential elements in the frame.
When you are using patterns and layers to make a landscape photograph, using a single point of interest can elevate the quality of your landscape to another level. You can try to find something that interrupts the pattern and lets the eyes of the viewer focus on it. The result will be excellent.
Using a telephoto lens, you can exclude the foreground, which is essential for wide-angle lenses. However, when you make images using a telephoto lens, an element in the foreground can also weaken the potential of the photograph you will capture, reducing the impact of the main elements of the frame.
Thanks to a telephoto lens, you can also exclude the sky whenever it is uninteresting. When the sky is not giving anything to the image, it will be detracting from the photograph, so this is when you should exclude the sky from the frame.
How to use prime lenses for Landscape Photography
I love prime lenses for landscape photography. They are lighter than telephoto lenses to carry on while you are hiking a mountain to take landscape photos. Prime lenses are fixed lenses. As the name suggests, they can’t zoom in and out and are just nailed to their focal length. As they allow wider aperture than telephoto lenses, photographers usually use prime lenses to photograph landscapes at night or when shooting stars.
The 85mm focal length
The 85mm focal length is perfect for portrait photography. So why don’t you use it to portray nature? Wide-angle lenses are probably the ideal choice for landscape photography and have their merits. But the 85mm has its own merits. It can be fantastic to capture close-up shots of natural elements you want to stand out in your frame. You can also use the 85mm lens to capture low-light landscapes thanks to the maximum aperture of this focal length (from f/1.2 to f/1.8 depending on the lens). This lens is also without distortion and is incredibly sharp. Finally, you can use your 85mm focal length lens to isolate the subject while capturing your landscape photograph, for example, a three or a mountain with a shallow depth of field. This way, you can show the main subject more creatively than just capturing the whole landscape with a wide-angle lens.
The 50mm focal length
The 50mm prime lens, known as Nifty Fifty, is popular among beginners. Especially for portraits and street photography. But I think you can use this lens also to take landscape photographs.
When the landscape scene doesn’t require a wide-angle lens, the 50mm can always do the job. Shooting with a 50mm focal length, you will focus on the essential elements of the frame. In addition, this lens will train you to identify what matters for the photograph. In a while, you will instinctively start to exclude from your landscape images the unimportant elements.
The 50mm focal length lens is a sharp lens and will highlight even the smallest detail of the frame.
The 35mm focal length
The 35mm lens is a slightly wide field of view. Just a little bit wider than the eye sees. But it still looks pretty natural, so you will feel comfortable using a 35mm focal length so quickly.
The 35mm lens is a great lens also about distortion. You don’t get a lot of distortion as it happens with wider-angle lenses. I love using the 35mm for landscape photography. You can get a stunning result just by following some basic rules.
As the 35mm offers a wide aperture, if you are a beginner, you may be tempted to use a wide aperture to capture landscape photographs. Not a good idea. Even in low light conditions. Shooting at f/1.4, for example, can offer you a faster shutter speed, but it will also give you an unwanted shallow depth of field. And landscape photographs look compelling when they are reasonably sharp.
Generally, you can use an aperture of f/8 to take your landscape photos.
Try to remember this general rule while capturing landscapes.
And if you struggle to get a fast-enough shutter speed, you can try to use a tripod or boost the Iso of your camera. Setting the aperture to f/8 will keep the entire landscape sharp from foreground to background.
As any rule, there is an exception. For example, don’t use f/8 when there is an interesting foreground to include in the composition of your image. In fact, with a powerful foreground element, it is a good idea to widen the aperture and let the background blur a little bit more.
Landscape photography is mainly captured in landscape orientation (which is the horizontal one). So why don’t you also try some portrait-orientation images just flipping your camera vertically? This orientation works great also when there is a dramatic sky to capture.
The 28mm focal length
The 28mm lens is also a good lens for landscape photography. It is probably the most popular focal length for landscape photography and gives a relatively wide angle of view (75 degrees).
Of course, you start having some distortion in your photographs with this focal length, but it is still a gentle distortion.
The 28mm is sharp and gives you excellent image quality.
The narrower angle of view also allows intimate shots that intentionally highlight the subject. And you can do it while still benefitting from the wide-angle view that helps to capture a good deal of the scene in front of your camera.
Like any prime lens, the 28mm focal length force you to think about composition and make you move on the landscape to find the right angle to take a photograph.
And spend more time engaged with your equipment and the landscape is what makes you improve your landscape photography skill faster.
As with any prime lens, the 28mm focal length will allow you to capture fantastic dusk or night landscape photos.
The 24mm focal length
The 24mm focal length has a wide angle of 84 degrees which is relatively wide. This focal length will enhance a sense of space while capturing expansive landscapes. You should frame carefully as the distortion start to be noticeable at this focal length. Be careful to tilt the camera to avoid unwanted distortion as much as possible unless you want to emphasize the distortion in your photograph creatively.
The 16mm focal length
A so wide-angle lens with a 16mm focal length is a powerful tool that helps you exaggerate the depth and size of the scenario. Personally, I think you should use a 16mm lens only once you get more experience with landscape photography.
The nearby objects in the frame will appear gigantic. On the opposite side, far away things will seem tiny and distant. The reason is the wide angle of view you get with the 16 mm lens.
The 14mm focal length
The 14mm focal length offers a dramatic 114-degree angle of view beyond the human eyes’ limit, creating a dramatically exaggerated wide perspective. In addition, it creates a significant separation between foreground elements and the background. These kinds of lenses are called fish-eye and are appreciated specifically for their distortion, which gives a sense of isolation in the landscape they capture.
Using this focal length, keep the camera vertically to minimize perspective distortion and produce a more looking-natural landscape photograph.