Landscape photography has a unique way of capturing the awe-inspiring beauty of the world around us. As avid photographers, we are constantly seeking ways to improve our craft and create mesmerizing images that resonate with viewers. One essential aspect that plays a significant role in landscape photography is the focal length of the lens used.
The choice of focal length can greatly influence the perspective and impact of your landscape shots. In this blog post, we will delve into the world of focal lengths and discover which one is best for capturing stunning landscape photographs.
Understanding Focal Length:
Before we dive into the best focal length for landscape photography, let’s quickly refresh our understanding of what focal length is.
Focal length refers to the distance between the lens’s optical center and the camera’s image sensor or film plane when the lens is focused at infinity. It is typically measured in millimeters and directly affects the angle of view and magnification of the subject in the frame.
When it comes to landscape photography, wide-angle lenses are the most popular choice among photographers.
These lenses typically have a focal length of 16mm to 35mm (full-frame equivalent) or even wider in some cases. The primary advantage of using wide-angle lenses is their ability to capture a broad perspective, allowing you to encompass vast landscapes into a single frame.
They excel at emphasizing foreground elements, which can lead to dramatic and immersive compositions. Wide-angle lenses are also great for emphasizing the distance between the foreground and the background, creating a sense of depth in your images.
I prefer shooting with a 24mm lens, more specifically, my Nikon 24mm lens, when I’m out shooting landscape images.
It allows me to fully capture the scene but also is not wide enough to distort the image. It can depend on the lens, but the wider you go after 24mm you will start getting a fish-eye type of vibe. Fish eye lens can be great when capturing a super wide shot of a starry night or in architectural photography, but they might not be best for your everyday shooting.
Mid-range lenses, commonly known as standard zoom lenses or prime lenses with focal lengths around 50mm to 85mm (full-frame equivalent), offer a versatile option for landscape photography.
While not as expansive as wide-angle lenses, mid-range lenses can still capture stunning landscape shots by providing a more “natural” perspective.
They can help isolate specific elements in the landscape and are excellent for capturing intimate details or compressing distant elements in the scene.
I often pair my above-mentioned 24mm wide lens with a Nikon 50mm lens when I’m out shooting landscapes. It gives me a fresh take and something different from the ultra-common wide-angle landscape shot.
It also forces me to look at a scene differently. And makes me think of ways to incorporate important subjects into a tighter frame. Making for some interesting images.
Telephoto lenses, with focal lengths above 100mm (full-frame equivalent), are less commonly used in landscape photography but can be very effective when utilized creatively.
These lenses allow you to isolate distant subjects and compress the perspective, which can be advantageous when photographing mountain ranges, interesting cloud formations, or other distant elements that need emphasis.
Telephoto lenses can also be great for shooting landscapes during sunrise or sunset when the sun is low on the horizon, allowing you to capture stunning sunstar effects.
I rarely shoot above 85mm for landscapes, but I am envious when landscape photographers make it happen with something longer. I also like to travel really light and move fast when out capturing beautiful scenes.
This pretty much eliminates longer focal lengths from my wheelhouse, as they are typically bigger and heavier lenses.
But you may have other preferences, or do not mind carrying bigger lenses to get the perfect shot. It all comes down to preference, which brings me to the next section.
Choosing the Best Focal Length:
Selecting the best focal length for landscape photography depends on the vision you want to convey through your images. Here are some considerations to help you make the right choice:
Consider the story you want to tell with your photograph. Do you want to capture the vastness of a scene with a sweeping perspective, or do you want to focus on a specific subject within the landscape?
Something I like to do, especially when traveling with family and friends, is only shoot with one camera/lens combo. Most of the time it’s my trusty Fujifilm X100F. It pretty much has a 35mm lens (23mm lens on a cropped sensor) which allows me to capture everything as the eye sees it.
The focal length isn’t anything fancy and doesn’t really stand out, but everything is shot on a single focal point, so it helps me to tell a consistent story for the trip.
It also helps me travel light and fast as I mentioned earlier. This is another thing to consider when choosing your focal length for landscape photography. Packability
When I shoot landscape images, I may need to get to a secluded spot and hike 12 miles to get there, camping overnight and whatnot.
I don’t want some big heavy lens weighing my pack down. Or multiple heavy lenses.
Which is why most of my shooting is done on prime lenses. They’re light, small, and really well-built. Perfect for my landscape shooting.
3. Foreground Elements
If you wish to emphasize the foreground elements in your landscape, wide-angle lenses are your best bet. They can add a sense of depth and dimensionality to your photographs.
Maybe you want to include some wildflowers in the shot or an Appalachian Trail marker to help tell a story but also still have the mountains in the background to draw all the attention.
4. Background Compression
On the other hand, if you want to compress the background and isolate distant subjects, telephoto lenses might be the way to go.
Maybe you want to focus on the mountain range in the distance during sunrise without all the foreground distractions. Or maybe you are on the Blue Ridge Parkway and do not want to/aren’t able to hike to isolated vistas so you use a telephoto to make it feel like you have.
Don’t shy away from experimenting with different focal lengths to find the one that best suits your style and artistic vision.
Maybe you find an 8mm fish-eye lens to be your bread and butter. And you love the way it allows you to capture the Milky Way in your backyard. You do what works best for you.
In the realm of landscape photography, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the best focal length. The choice depends on your artistic vision, the story you want to convey, and the specific elements you wish to emphasize within the landscape.
Ultimately, the best focal length for landscape photography is the one that enables you to capture the beauty of the natural world in a way that resonates with your audience and leaves them in awe of our planet’s wonders. Happy shooting!