The Best Lens for Landscape Photography

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When new photographers ask what is the ‘best lens’ for a particular scenario it can be easy to trot out the same old advice. Rather than do that we should probably consider giving the advice to use whatever lenses they have to hand or whichever lens will achieve the result they want. As an example, experimenting with a wide angle lens for portraits can yield some interesting results.

A long telephoto lens was used to take this sunset photograph - this has compressed the perspective and make the sun look impressively large against the landscape's features.
Image Attribution: Sunset @ Kabini by Vinoth Chandar
This photograph was taken with a long telephoto lens which has the effect of compressing the perspective, making the sun look impressively large when compared with the features of this landscape.

For landscape photography, the advice to use a wide angle lens to convey the vastness of the landscape while using a telephoto lens to compress the perspective is widely known. So what is the best lens for landscape photography? Like so many things in the creative arts … it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Lens Choices

Capturing light that makes an image is photography; whether the photograph is a portrait of a lovely woman or landscape shots with gorgeous flora and fauna. Choosing the ‘correct’ lens to achieve the effect that you are seeking is as important as the subject you are shooting. Four very commonly used lenses are:

  • The ‘Normal’ Lens: This lens comes close to reproducing the world at the same magnification and perspective as the human eye. If you buy a DSLR that includes a lens, it’s usually a ‘normal’ lens that comes with the kit (unless you specifically order a different lens).
  • General Purpose Zoom Lens: This lens will have a range from wider than ‘normal’ to more magnified than normal. It’s a versatile lens that provides the capability to photograph a relatively wide range of subject without needing to change lenses regularly.
  • Macro Lens: This lens gives the ability to create up to a 1:1 magnification of subjects (as measured on the camera’s image sensor). This is a good choice for photographing small objects. This type of lens is often used for commercial product photographs.
  • Telephoto Lens: The Telephoto lens is the most commonly used lens for portrait photography. The focal length of this lens keeps distortion at a minimum while narrowing the view, which allows filling the field with the photographic subject. Using a telephoto lens will compress the apparent perspective on a face – typically flattening facial features in flattering manner.

There are other lenses that many would consider essential to their photography. However, the above four probably account for by far the majority of all photographs taken and are on the ‘wish list’ of many new photographers.

What is The Best Lens for Landscape Photography?

In broad general terms, there are two types of light; natural and artificial. Natural light comes from the sun and is dependent on time of day, weather conditions and location. Does the light filtered through clouds, tree branches, a rising or setting sun serve the purpose of the story we want to tell with our photo? What is the best lens for capturing ‘hard light’ that is unfiltered sunlight? Many photographers avoid the harsh mid-day sunlight; they try to capture either rising or setting sunlight that is much softer.

Shooting landscapes in hard light can convey the feeling of being in the picture. Shooting portraits of people is avoided at all costs in a hard light setting as wrinkles are more pronounced and harsh shadows typically unflattering.

Lenses for landscapes are dependent on what kind of picture a photographer wants to paint, what kind of effects is he or she seeking, the depth of background and mood they desire to engender.

Painting with Light

The word ‘photography’ has its root in the ancient Greek language. Translated in to modern English, it means means ‘painting with light’. The art of photography allows the photographer to re-create the subject and present it to the world with interpretation, subjectivity and creativity. The photographer can take the mundane subject into the sublime by choice of lens, light and post-production techniques.

Play with your lenses, there is no best lens for landscape photography. However, the best lens for the landscape shot you are taking at the time is the one that achieves the result you had visualised before you pressed the shutter.

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