Last summer I wrote an article entitled, “What is the Best Lens for Scenics?” in which I discussed using different focal lengths, depth of field, and the effect upon perspective, however, I left the answer as to the preferred lens for each scenic location to individual photographers. My opinion then, as now, is that it really depends on what a photographer wants to say about a particular scene. I also said that I regularly used lenses such as my 24-120, or 18-200mm, because I like lightweight lenses if I have any distance to walk. Those two lenses offer lots of focal length choices that will allow me to include only whatever I want in a picture.
I thought about these comments earlier this week as I sold my 80-400mm lens. My discussion with the new owner was mostly about the lens’ functions; its ability to produce sharp images, and how the vibration reduction mode easily allows handholding. What we hadn’t talked about was what he intended to photograph with his new lens. I assumed he was into wildlife photography, but as we stood in my shop talking he mentioned that he would be going on a bit of a hike this next weekend and hoped it wasn’t going to be too cold. I mentioned that the cold weather might be good because it kept the bighorn sheep down in the valley west of the city. It was then that he said, “ I am mostly into scenics”.
Many photographers are of the opinion that scenic photography is about the landscape and needs to be as much of panorama as possible, and for that purpose, select wide-angle lenses as they trudge into the wilderness. They aren’t so much interested in what elements make up the scene they capture as to what the overall view is. However, there are those photographers like the fellow who bought my 80-400mm lens that have discovered how to build exciting scenics with telephoto lenses.
A wide-angle lens has a curved front surface allowing for a wider view. The distance between the foreground and background subjects will seem extended, and objects closer to the lens will look much bigger in relation to those in the background. Whereas, with a long-focal-length lens like the 400mm all the elements will be compressed, depth of field reduced, and in the final image no one subject in the photograph gains significance over another.
Maybe it’s the compressed effect that makes scenic photographs made with telephoto lenses sometimes stand out, and I think the photograph is more dependent on how things front to back are placed. There seems to be more subject selection, or in artistic terms, a more specific visual discussion.
I don’t believe that every scenic photograph needs to be a wide landscape. I do, however, believe that successful scenic photographs need to say something and follow the rules of composition.
Using 300mm or 400mm telephoto lenses almost demands that a photographer slows down, and thinks about what one sees through the viewfinder as the image is composed. I am not saying that one can’t do that with a wide-angle lens, only that it is harder with a tight, cropped, limiting, and enlarged view from a long-focal-length telephoto lens.
If we think that the majority of successful scenic images are those that were photographed from the most interesting view, or where one sets the camera for the most pleasing perspective, why not try the longest focal length lens available, and take the time to move the viewfinder around to fill the frame while maintaining all the rules of composition?