Tonje Lilleås

How to shoot landscapes with different focal lengths?

What focal length do you think of when I say landscape photography? I bet the first thing that comes to mind is something within the range of 16-24 mm. However landscape photography doesn’t necessarily mean wide lenses. And in this post I’m going to tell you how to shoot landscapes with different focal lengths.

The kit lens

I think shooting landscapes is one of the things that get people into photography. I might even go as far as saying that a lot of DSLRs are bought with the intention of learning to shoot landscapes. And when investing in that first camera, a lot of people only get the kit lens to start off with. So let’s start with a few words on the kit lens before we move on to how you can shoot landscapes with different focal lengths.

A typical kit lens will have a focal length range between 17-55 mm. On a full frame this gives you a range to work with from pretty wide to normal. Most people don’t start with a full frame camera though, and it’s good to know that on a crop sensor you won’t get as wide focal lengths from the kit lens. For instance at 17 mm on a APS-C camera will give you 24 mm as the widest field of view in camera. However that doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot good landscapes with it.

Wide-angle lenses

Wide-angle lenses are what most people think about when they hear landscape photography. This isn’t just down to the fact that they offer a wide field of view, but because the linear perspective is exaggerated using a wide-angle lens. With this exaggeration you can create a lot of drama in an image. And drama means interest. Interest and drama is good. Especially when a scene might be otherwise dull, using this technique can be vey effective to create interest.

To really achieve the exaggerated linear perspective it’s important to get close to whatever you have decided to be your foreground interest. This way the foreground will appear larger, while the rest of the landscape stretches out behind it. A well known trick to create interesting, modern landscape images.

If you want to try out exaggerating the linear perspective, you should try shooting with a focal length between 16-24 mm.

Standard lenses

Standard lenses are those that cover approximately the same field of view as the human eye. Generally speaking this is a focal length around 50 mm (full frame). Because this focal length gives us a very familiar crop of a scene, we have to use other tools to create drama or interest in an image. However sometimes you don’t necessarily want to focus on creating drama in a scene, and my experience is that shooting landscapes with a 50 mm lens is a great way to enhance calm and serenity in a scene.

Whenever you shoot with a standard lens you will give your image a more natural perspective, more like the way we see a scene when we’re there shooting it. This can be great when you want to document rather than give a more creative take on a scene. So standard lenses have their place in landscape photography as well.

Also, if you’d like to hear more about how to use a standard lens in general, check out this great video from Becki and Chris: “The BEST lens for Portrait Photography – 50 mm Focal Length Challenge”.

Telephoto lenses

I mentioned that you can create drama with wide-angle lenses. Well, you can create a totally different kind of drama with a telephoto lens. I can safely say that it wasn’t until I started shooting landscapes with my 70-200 mm lens that I truly fell in love with shooting landscapes.

Now the telephoto lenses cover a wide range of focal lengths. The key thing for me with the telephoto lens is the way they can compress the perspective, and this effect you’ll be able to start seeing even already from 70 mm. By all means, the effect is greater with longer lenses, but I’ve found that the 70-200 mm is my go to for these kinds of landscapes.

With the compressed perspective you get from a telephoto lens, the distance between the elements in a scene is being narrowed. The elements appear much closer to another, almost like they are stacked on top of each other.

I use longer focal lengths to pick out details in the landscapes and I just love it. It makes it possible to find different (new) compositions from well photographed locations, and this way I think it’s easier to put my spin on a location.

Good “affordable” lenses for landscape photography

Good lenses are key to get the most out of your camera or a location. However great glass often comes at great prices (great meaning high in this account).

Here’s a list of a few “affordable” lenses:

  • Sigma 10-20 mm f3.5 EX DC HSM: A lens designed for the APS-C sensor cameras covering really wide focal lengths.
  • Tamron 70-200 mm f2.8 DI VC USD G2: A good telephoto lens with weather sealing, good auto focus and five stops vibration compensation.
  • Sigma 24-70 f2.8 DG OS HSM Art: A very good investment if you’re an enthusiast photographer and want to upgrade your standard lens.

Head out to shoot

I hope you found this post interesting and valuable. If you did, please consider giving it a like and leaving a comment down below. I’d love to hear what your favorite focal length for landscape photography is! Also if you’d consider subscribing to my blog or newsletter, I’d be really happy. You’ll find more of my images over on my portfolio page and on my Instagram feed. Now head out to shoot landscapes, and remember; there’s always more to explore locally!



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