What is the best lens for scenic photography?
With all its colours, fall is creeping onto the hills in my part of British Columbia. Photographers are grabbing their cameras, tripods and jackets to wander out to record the beauty.
This past week a young couple visiting my Kamloops shop asked my opinion of the best lens to take along on their next excursion, to photograph B.C.’s inspiring landscapes.
That’s a good question, especially from those new to photography that are spending hard-earned money on pricey modern lenses. Personally, I like versatility and there are a lot of great zoom lenses available for someone that doesn’t want to carry a heavy bag.
I like zoom lenses like 16-85 mm, 24-70 mm or even 18-200 mm. Gosh, there are so many lightweight and easy-to-carry choices. However, instead of recommending a particular lens for scenic photography, I’d rather think about perspective.
After stepping out of the car to photograph some grand vista, my decision would be whether I wanted a wide angle or a telephoto.
A wide-angle lens has a curved front surface allowing for a wider view. A telephoto has a flatter front surface and a narrower view.
For example, using an 18 mm focal length lens when photographing along a fence will make the first post big and the succeeding posts smaller and smaller. Whereas a 200 mm focal length will give a tightly compressed view, and distances between the fencepost in the foreground and those further back won’t seem as distant as with the wider lens.
In a more practical example, when one is photographing a boat on the lakeshore with mountains in the background, a long focal length like the 200 mm will compress everything in the final image, with no subject gaining significance over another. Yet, an 18 mm lens will make the boat large and mountains in the background small and distant.
Both may be good photographs of that scene, just different interpretations.
The most appropriate lens depends on the perspective and how the photographer wants to interpret the final image, and because the focal length adjusts the visual relationships of the objects within the picture, one must think about the image front to back and how much of the scenic is important as a wide or a narrow final image.
It comes down to the personal vision of the photographer and what he or she wants to say about the landscape. Famous photographer Ansel Adams said, “problem solve for the final photograph.”
Like Adams, photographers should be thinking about how the final photograph will be used and how to accomplish that.
If one thinks of a photograph as a series of problems to be solved, there will be a smooth transition from initial idea to final print.
For example, one could begin by thinking about the subject and its environment. What is the background and how will that affect the subject? What is in the foreground that will interfere with that subject?
I don’t believe there is one lens that can be termed a “scenic or landscape” lens. Any lens might be used as long as it meets the photographer’s vision.
That might be to include a wide vista with a wide-angle lens, or on the other hand, a tighter cropped image created with a telephoto lens might be visually more powerful. The choice of lens for scenics comes down to what the photographer wants the viewer to feel and see.
These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at enmanscameratalk.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Rd., in Kamloops. I sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. Don’t hesitate to call me at 250-371-3069.