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  • Writer's pictureAbdul Qudoos

What is the Best Focal Length for Landscape Photography?

Updated: Apr 7


BEST FOCAL LENGTH FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

The landscape photograph you envision hinges on one key choice - focal length. Like an artist selecting the perfect brush, your lens determines the look and feel.


Will you paint with a wide angle to capture the expansive grandeur of nature? Or move in close with a telephoto to reveal intricate details?


The possibilities are as endless as the landscapes themselves. But choose wisely.


The right focal length makes ordinary topography extraordinary. Learn how to wield this creative tool to craft legendary landscape images that impress and inspire.


What is Focal Length and Why Does it Matter?

The focal length is the distance between the optical center of the lens and the image sensor when the lens is focused at infinity. It’s expressed in millimeters (mm).


The focal length determines the angle of view or how much of the scene will be captured in your photo. Shorter focal lengths (wider angles) have a wider field of view, allowing you to fit more into the frame. Longer focal lengths (telephoto) have a narrower angle of view and zoom in on details.


For landscape shots, the focal length you choose directly impacts the look and feel of your images in terms of:

  • Perspective - Wider angles exaggerate perspective, while longer focal lengths compress it.

  • Depth of Field - Shorter focal lengths give a deeper depth of field. Longer focal lengths decrease the depth of field.

  • Distortion - Ultra-wide angles may cause barrel distortion around the edges. Telephoto compression can elongate objects.


So focal length has a major influence over your creative options. Let’s look at ideal focal length ranges for different landscape photography situations.


Wide Angle Lenses: 14-35mm


panoramic shot of expansive rug

Wide-angle lenses in the 14-35mm range are a landscape photographer’s best friend. These short focal lengths allow you to capture sprawling scenic vistas in their entirety.


The wide perspective provided by 14-35mm lenses enables you to include expansive background elements like an entire mountain range and interesting foreground details like rocks or foliage to add depth. This gives images a sense of immense scale.


Wide-angle lenses excel at:

  • Capturing epic panoramic landscape scenes

  • Enhancing depth through exaggerated perspective

  • Fitting everything in the frame when working in tight spaces

  • Adding drama and dynamism to compositions

  • Achieving maximum depth of field for sharp focus throughout


Any focal length of 35mm or less is generally considered to be a wide-angle lens. But lenses in the 14-24mm ultra-wide range allow you to get extremely dynamic perspectives perfect for emphasizing the breadth of grand landscapes.


Just be aware that the wider you go, the more you’ll need to watch out for distortion around the edges of the frame. Use techniques like composing with elements in the central area or correcting distortion in posts to avoid issues.



Mid-Range Lenses: 35-70mm


landscape scene of a mountain

Mid-range focal lengths from 35-70mm offer landscape photographers the best of both worlds. These versatile lenses provide a natural perspective that mimics human vision.


In this range, you get moderate wide-angle coverage to capture the environment and scenic context along with a narrower field of view to hone in on specific elements and compress distances.


The 35-70mm range is ideal for:

  • Shooting both intimate landscape compositions and expansive scenes

  • Getting a balanced perspective that replicates what your eyes see

  • Capturing landscapes with points of interest in the foreground

  • Isolating subjects while retaining background for context

  • Achieving shallower depth of field to blur backgrounds

  • Producing images with minimal distortion


A mid-range focal length of around 50mm is a go-to all-purpose landscape lens. But having the flexibility to go a bit wider or tighter gives you more creative options. Overall, 35-70mm offers excellent versatility for diverse landscape situations.


Telephoto Lenses: 70-200mm+


telephoto photography of a rock

Telephoto lenses with focal lengths over 70mm are not typically considered traditional landscape lenses. But they can be used to put a unique spin on landscape shots.


The compressed perspective and narrowed angle of view provided by telephoto lenses let landscape photographers isolate and magnify elements within a scene from a distance. For example, capturing:

  • An intimate tree composition in a faraway grove

  • A standalone mountain peak or building against the sky

  • Detailed texture in rocks or foliage from afar

  • Layered foreground, midground, and background elements


Going telephoto with focal lengths up to 200mm or more can completely transform a landscape, highlighting things that would otherwise be lost in a wide view.


The only caveat is that telephotos decrease the depth of field significantly. Using techniques like stopping down the aperture and focusing one-third into the scene will help maximize sharpness.


Factors to Consider When Choosing Focal Length

When determining the best focal length for your landscape photos, there are a few key considerations to take into account:


Type of Landscape Scene

The focal length you choose should complement the type of landscape you want to capture. For example:

  • Wide open spaces - Use wide-angle lenses to emphasize the vastness of the scene

  • Intimate spaces - Go normal or telephoto to isolate intricate details

  • Layered landscapes - Telephoto lenses allow you to compress distances


Think about what you want to convey with your photo and select a perspective to match.


Working Distance and Access

The amount of working space you have is another important factor. If you’re shooting in a confined area, wide-angle lenses allow you to fit everything in a tight spot. For distant or hard-to-reach landscapes, telephotos help you zero in on details from afar.


Depth of Field Requirements

Do you want maximum depth of field to keep your entire landscape sharp? Wide-angle lenses provide ample depth of field. If you want smooth, creamy bokeh in the background, go with telephoto lenses to decrease the depth of field.


Distortion Control

Super wide-angle lenses may produce unwanted barrel distortion around the edges. Normal to telephoto focal lengths avoid excessive distortion. Keep this in mind when framing with elements near the edges.


Best All-Around Focal Length for Landscape Photography

If you could only choose a single focal length for shooting landscapes, what would it be?

Most landscape photographers agree that a 35-70mm mid-range lens gets the nod as the best all-purpose focal length.


In this range, you can capture both intimate details and vast scenery. The perspective is natural and distortion is minimized. 35-70mm offers the optimal balance of flexibility, versatility, sharpness, and compression for diverse landscape situations.


Specifically, a 35mm, 50mm, or 70mm lens is a safe bet for general landscape work.

Of course, limiting yourself to just one focal length means missing out on the creative possibilities different perspectives offer. The beauty of landscapes lies in the options provided by wide-angle, mid-range, and telephoto lenses.


Here’s a recommended focal length guide based on the type of landscape scenes:

Landscape Type

Recommended Focal Length

Sweeping vistas

16-35mm

Flowing rivers or waterfalls

24-70mm

Forest scenes with tall trees

14-24mm

Mountain ranges

70-200mm

Intimate wooded scenes

35-85mm

Isolating details in the landscape

100mm+


Tips for Using Focal Length Creatively


fisheye view of winding road through mount

To take your landscape images up a level, get creative with leveraging different focal lengths:


Go Wide to Emphasize Foreground - Use wide-angle lenses like 14mm or 24mm when you want to exaggerate foreground elements to add depth and drama. Place interesting foreground subjects like flowers, rocks, or textures close to accentuate them.


Isolate Subjects with Telephoto - Compress busy landscapes by zooming in tight with a telephoto lens like 100mm or 200mm to isolate specific elements against clean backgrounds.


Try Different Focal Lengths - Photograph the same landscape scene with wide, normal, and telephoto lenses to compare the effects. This helps develop your focal length intuition.


Zoom with Prime Lenses - Prime lenses with fixed focal lengths force you to zoom with your feet. This perspective awareness results in more compelling images.


Shoot Panoramas - Use a wide-angle lens moving left to right to capture a series of shots that can be stitched into an ultra-wide panorama encompassing a sweeping scene.



Common Focal Length Mistakes to Avoid

While focal length flexibility is a photographer’s friend, there are a few mistakes to watch out for:

  • Going too wide - Ultra wide lenses cause distortion which looks unnatural if not composed carefully.

  • Not getting close enough - Standing too far back with wide angles can make objects appear insignificantly small and distant.

  • Cropping off details - Telephotos compress perspective, so move closer or you’ll crop out elements around the edges.

  • Camera shake - Telephoto lenses amplify camera movement, so use faster shutter speeds or a tripod.


With practice, you’ll learn which focal lengths work for different landscape scenarios and how to leverage them for maximum impact.


Wrapping Up

Choosing the right focal length is a key creative decision that can make or break your landscape images. Wide angles capture sprawling vistas. Telephotos isolate details. And mid-range lenses offer ideal all-round performance.


Consider scene elements, working distance, depth of field, and distortion when selecting your focal length. Most importantly, don’t limit yourself.


Experiment with different perspectives and leverage wide, normal, and telephoto lenses to take your landscape photography to the next level. The beauty lies in the variety of options, so use them!


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