Traditionally most landscape photos are taken with lenses with a wide focal length; these capture huge vistas which can be amazingly beautiful, and form the majority of the landscape photos that we see every day on social media.
Often overlooked are small details in the landscape, such as a house on a hill, or a rock in a stream which can also be used to create amazing photos. So in this blog, we look at the kit that you will need to do this and some examples which show some of the possibilities.
An intro to focal length
If you look at any camera lens, somewhere there will be a mark with a value in millimetres (e.g. '50mm' or '24-70mm'); this is the 'focal length' of the lens, and it tells you how wide a scene you can capture.
The field of view you can see with your eyes (without moving them!) is around a 50mm focal length, and so anything which gives a wider field of view is called 'wide angle' (less than 50mm) and anything which has a more zoomed field of view (more than 50mm) is called 'telephoto'. If there is just one number e.g. '50mm' then this is a prime lens with a single focal length. If there are two numbers e.g. '14-24mm' then it is a zoomable lens with a variable field of view.
Note that camera phones tend to have lenses with a single fixed focal length, although some (e.g. the Samsung Galaxy S3) can have several lenses to provide a wide, normal telephoto views.
Kit lenses are great - for most things!
The lens that comes with most interchangeable cameras is generally a 24-70mm lens. This provides the ability to take photos of fairly wide scenes (at the 24mm zoom end), photos at the human eyesight field of view (around 50mm) and also a small amount of ability to zoom in at the 70mm telephoto end. However, if I tell you that my kit bag contains lenses which span focal lengths from 14mm at the wide end, to 600mm at the telephoto end, you will hopefully realise that there are occasions where it's good to have a greater range of focal lengths than that provided by kit lenses.
Telephoto provides a different perspective
Whenever I go on a shoot, I will always have my standard zoom lens (24-70mm) in my kit bag for normal, fairly wide landscape shots; but I will also always have my 70-200mm telephoto lens with me for picking out details in the landscape. After looking for standard landscape compositions, I will always look for details which might also make a great photo; such as a house hidden in the trees, or a single rock in a river covered in autumn leaves. These may or may not strictly qualify as 'landscape' photos, but they can still be effective photos and sometimes can be more powerful than their wide equivalents.
In the rest of this article, I will show you a couple of examples of where I have taken wide landscape photos, then switched to isolating details with my telephoto lens; I will leave it to you to decide which you prefer!
The house in the trees...
Whilst driving over Dartmoor back in the autumn, I spotted this beautiful autumn landscape, with the road to act as a lead-in line and a house hidden in the trees to provide a focal point on the right hand 'third' of the shot. However, I also grabbed my telephoto lens to get this shot with just the house hidden in the trees. Personally I prefer the zoomed in telephoto shot; how about you?
A walk along the river...
The next example was taken on a walk down the East Okement River on Dartmoor back in October, just as the autumn colours were starting to show. The first photo is a standard landscape taken with my 24-70mm lens and shows the river tumbling down towards the camera, surrounded by moss and trees starting to put on their autumn colours. The second is a detail that I picked out with my telephoto lens, simply showing the water tumbling over the falls, scattered with fallen autumn leaves. It's arguable whether the latter is a 'landscape photo' but it's a detail of the scene that I think makes a pleasing photo.
Hopefully in this short article I've shown you how you can use focal length to give a very different perspective to any landscape. Hopefully, if you already have a telephoto lens, you will consider taking it with you and start looking for more detail shots.
Want to jump-start your learning?
Don't forget that if you want some direct help with your photography, I offer a range of 1-2-1 photography courses for Devon based folks. If you're not nearby then I also offer residential weekends for beginners or intermediate photographers.