How to Master Your 24-105mm Zoom Lens for Landscape Photography

This lens is an essential part of my photography kit and one, which I would not go out into nature without. In this article, I want to show how you can master and get the most out of your 24-105mm zoom lens and hopefully inspire you to use it more in your landscape photography.

I am dividing this 24-105mm article into three parts. One that covers the wide perspective of 24-35mm, where you can get that dramatic look of the wide-angle lenses, one for the standard 35-70mm, which provides the look closest to human perception, and one for the short telephoto range of 70-105mm where you can get those dramatic perspectives that show scale, adventure and drama.

24-35mm

At 24-35mm, you can fairly easily get that special wide-angle look, where it feels as if the foreground of the photo is falling out into the face of the viewer. It is easy to emphasize the depth of the photo by making a powerful foreground, but contrary to the ultra-wide-angle views, your background usually does not end up being a small dot in the horizon, when you shoot between 24mm and 35mm.

Whether you photograph horizontal or vertical you still need to follow the basic idea of tilting the camera down and get close to the foreground. A foreground that of course ought to make sense and benefit the rest of the photo.

In this first example at 24mm from the lavender fields in Valensole, I use the lines of lavenders as leading lines leading into the small ruin in the middle of the frame. Due to the focal length, the foreground lavenders are emphasized and larger relative to the background. The lavenders become smaller quite fast as we move into the scene due to the wide-angle perspective.

At 35mm, you can also get the dramatic foreground, which is the case in the photo below from the island of Tindholmur, also in the Faroes. The two small ponds perfectly reflect the top of the cliff in the background making for a dramatic and interesting foreground. Had I shot this at 24mm the background would have been much smaller, but by moving a bit further back and zooming into 35mm I make sure the background still takes up a good amount of the frame.

In less dramatic scenes, you can still get that wide-angle look. In the following simple 24mm photo from a pier in Denmark, I use the pier as a leading line leading into the dramatic emptiness of the ocean and threatening dark clouds.

35-70mm

These focal lengths are where this lens stands out compared to the 16-35mm and 70-200mm lenses. Because these focal lengths are closest to the perception of human vision, they are considered to be the least dramatic. Being the least dramatic is not necessarily bad. On the contrary, it is actually highly beneficial as you can make photos that do not stand out because of some optical effect in your lens, but you rely much more on the scene itself to do the work for you – and of course some compositional and editing techniques.

Just because you photograph in this focal range doesn’t mean you can’t bring in that foreground for an increased sense of depth and drama. In these two photos from Lyngvig lighthouse in Denmark taken at 46mm and 63mm, you still have a strong sense of depth, which along with the lighting adds a lot of drama. Not to mention this shot here at 37mm from Lofoten. Very dramatic with a strong foreground that really sucks you into the photo.

The below example at 65mm is the same. I do not rely on the foreground being super dramatic to get that wow effect. The scene in itself is what this photo is all about. The gnarled trees are so full of character; the fog adds so much atmosphere, and mood to the scene, that it looks like something straight out of a fairytale. Arguably, a typical wide-angle photo where I include more of the trail would have worked against what I wanted to show. If we compare to a 24mm photo from the same forest, which compositionally also works, you can see how I put much more emphasis on the trail than the background trees and the question is if this is what you want?

The 35-70mm range can also work well in landscapes that are more dramatic. At 42mm, the below photo from the Faroes is all about the person observing this special moment in time. A windy day, where the spray from the waterfall is blown in the right direction and a rainbow is formed. At 42mm, you can almost not get any closer to human vision and the photo is not special because of some dramatic perspective created by the lens, but because the scene is special. From a wider perspective, the rainbow and background would have been smaller and insignificant in the photo.

70-105mm

Moving into the short telephoto range of 70-105mm, you cover a part of the 70-200mm, but get that extra reach, which a 24-70mm lens does not cover.

The first benefit of this increased focal length is of course that you can zoom into scenes you could not reach with the shorter focal lengths and exclude parts of the landscapes and the scene you do not want to include. That is highly beneficial in forest photography and grand landscapes. In this first example, I zoom in to this part of the scene to only include exactly what is needed to make the photo work.

I got the below 92mm photo while hiking out to the famous sea stack Drangarnir in the Faroe Islands photographing across the fjord towards the little town Bøur. The dabbled light was just fantastic and I was fascinated by how it painted the mountains and occasionally hit the town to draw attention to it.

However, one thing is to zoom into the distant scenes, but how I prefer to use the longer focal lengths is to create that epic perspective compression. It is basically about finding some kind of foreground and as I like to do is placing myself or another person in it for that extra sense of drama, adventure, and scale. On the hike out to Drangarnir, we came across several places where it was possible to place yourself in the foreground and have the islands Drangarnir, Tindholmur, and Mykines in the background. Using the longer foreground and walking into the scene you can really create a strong perspective compression. Comparing the 77mm photo to the 34mm photo (below) where I stand closer to the camera there is a huge difference in the sense of drama and scale. It is also worth noting I did not bother to finish the edit on the 34mm photo, which is why it looks a bit dull.

Be sure to check out the video above for many more examples. Also, let me hear in the comments if you already have this lens, or is it one you consider getting?

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13 Comments

Tor-Ivar Næss's picture

Loved the video. Really good examples!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks a lot, Tor-Ivar! :)

Toby Seb's picture

Great read and super helpful, as 24-105 is the only L lens i have.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks a lot, Toby :)

Dave F's picture

Extremely well done and amazing examples. I would add one potential caveat (which in no way should be considered criticism, given the fact that all of the images here are great and obviously show what you can do with a 24-105). The caveat is that there are no 24-105 lenses (that I'm aware of) that go wider than f/4 (unless you're using a variable aperture lens, which may go out to 3.5 on the wide end), so if you're planning on shooting night skies too you might be better off with something else. Sure, you could carry a wide prime and a 24-105, but at that point it might be worth considering the wide prime and a 70-200 (f/4 for the weight). I'd agree that you could make a case for a wide prime and the 24-105 combo if you prefer the idea of not swapping out lenses at all during the day (reserving the prime exclusively for night skies), and that would make sense if your prime is around 14mm. But if you're using something like a 24mm 1.4 as your prime, the overlap starts to make less sense than a 24 and 70-200 combo. You sacrifice some flexibility at the wide end of the range but there's a lot to be said about what can be done for landscapes in the 105-200 range.

Again, not a criticism or a contradiction. Just an additional variable that's fairly common when considering gear for landscape photography.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

You are absolutely right, Dave. These days I use a 12-24, 24-105, and 100-400 with a 15mm f/2 and 20mm f/1.8 for night sky photography. I usually do not have to carry out my "holy trinity" during the night and I can leave the night primes at home during the day, so I usually only carry at top three lenses around. My "dream" landscape lens would be something like a 16-200mm for FF, I don't even care if it is a constant f/8 :)

F Dawson's picture

Tamron is releasing an aps-c 17-70/2.8 in early jan. That almost covers it if you're willing to forego FF.

Eric Robinson's picture

Good solid advice that still manages to ignore the most important ingredient, photographic talent. Mads is too modest, the most important component is not to be found in his camera bag but more the photographer who is carrying it. In my opinion too much emphasis on gear and not enough credit given to the photographer. I would bet you could give Mads any camera lens combo send him out on a shoot and he would come back with some great images. That said still a great video with wonderful images from a very talented photographer.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you so much for such kind words, Eric. That is actually an interesting subject, talent :)

Michele Buttazzoni's picture

Great video Mads and perfect examples! At the moment I've the Tamron 17-28 for my Sony FF and I'm considering buying the new Tamron 28-200 to cover about all focals in only two lens. I think it was a good solution instead the excellent Sony 24-105.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks, Michele. I've actually just invested in the 28-200mm - I have yet to try it out, but if it lives up to the hype, I may get myself a 16-35mm to compliment it. For now, it seems 28mm is broad enough for my woodland photography and I almost never get above 200mm.

Michele Buttazzoni's picture

Wonderful! So waiting for your review of 28-200mm, please let us know! :)

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

I'll make sure to make a video about it on my YouTube for sure - when I have enough experience with it :)