No, a Wide Angle Lens Is Not the Best for Landscape Photography

“A wide angle lens is the best for landscape photography.” Does that sound familiar? I am continuously surprised by how little I use the wide angle lens.

In the above video, I went to a beautiful lighthouse along the western coast of Jutland in Denmark. I have wanted to visit this lighthouse for a very long time, and when I got the opportunity to combine a visit with the back end of a storm, the potential for great photographs was there.

When I visit a new location, I usually approach it with my 24-105mm attached to the camera, and it was no different on this day. The 24-105mm is an incredibly versatile lens, covering the field of view from the wide to short telephoto range. As it turned out, I did not need to take off the lens the entire day.

Shot at 44mm with a slight crop.

Dimensions of the Photograph

The first thing I had to consider at this location was the dimensions of the lighthouse. This lighthouse was very tall compared to its width (it is a tower after all), and that meant it took up very little of the photo. Because of its height, most of my photos ended up in portrait format, as I wanted to include a near foreground. You can go through the photos in the article and compare the portrait-oriented photos with the landscape-oriented photos below. The lighthouse very quickly becomes very small in the landscape-oriented photos with a near foreground.

Shot at 66mm without a near foreground.

Shot at 29mm with a near foreground.

Shot at 29mm with a near foreground.

The second thing I had to consider was the distance to the lighthouse. In my experience photographing these types of lighthouses, I know distance is key. The problem with getting too close is you will need to use a wide angle lens, and it creates a perspective I do not like. The lighthouse looks distorted because of the close distance. This might work in nature, but for buildings, it can be problematic. Adding distance, you look at the lighthouse instead of up it.

What About Depth?

The third thing to consider was how to incorporate the landscape into the frame to create a perception of depth. Since I had freed myself from the wide angle perspective, I had opened up a much larger area for potential foregrounds. The larger the area, the more opportunity to find the best possible foreground, which in turn optimizes your chance for the “best” possible photo. This place is a dune area and a well-visited beach during summer, which means there was a lot of grass and many trails I could use as elements in the foreground to create the perception of depth. With the larger distance to the lighthouse, I would have to zoom in beyond the typical 35mm, where the wide angle zoom lenses end, but that risked removing the sense of depth. When you use a wide angle and you want to include a foreground, you often want to get low and close to the foreground element, but to include foreground and get a perception of depth, when I used a longer focal length, I actually had to move a bit back and zoom in instead. Check out the before/after photo below, where I use two different focal lengths (46mm and 63mm), yet get approximately the same foreground effect at the expense of the middle ground.

What About Drama?

If I had been in a more dramatic landscape with a mountain in the background, it would be obvious to use a wide angle lens to achieve a wider field of view so as to include everything in the scene in my photograph, just as I did when I was at Stokksnes in Iceland. However, as this landscape did not include mountains and was not particularly dramatic, I had to create the drama using another lens. My scene of interest was relatively narrow and therefore did not require a wide angle lens. Had I used the wide angle lens, let us say at 16mm, I would have included way too much of the landscape and left the lighthouse as a tiny line in the distance. By zooming in, I exclude all the clutter and make the photo much more to the point and arguably more dramatic.

Shot at 59mm.

Which One Is the Best?

As I photograph the not-so-dramatic landscapes of Denmark more and more, I am really starting to feel it is a myth that the wide angle lens is the best for landscape photography. It is not just a myth; it is actually just wrong. The “best” lens for landscape photography at this location I would argue is the 24-105mm. Some photographers say the 16-35mm is the best, others the 70-200mm (or longer), but let me add a bit of gasoline to the conversation and say the 24-105mm is the best. In fact, it is highly subjective, and stating which one is the “best” lens always comes with an “it depends.” What lens works the best is always relative to the specific landscape, location, and vision of the photographer. That is why I usually preach you need to cover as wide a range of focal lengths as possible.

Check out the video above to see some stormy landscape photography. Which one is your most used lens?

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55 Comments

Previous comments

Except that his post was in reference to an article discussing the effects of different focal lengths, which becomes meaningless without observing equivalence.

If we would all refer to our lenses in terms of FOV instead of focal length in these discussions, then this issue would be moot. It's akin to comparing lights based on watts vs lumens.

Stuart Carver's picture

But the OP already states his system, and that system is Fujifilm.. so his 23mm lens is a 23mm lens, regardless of what you say. Focal length is a physical measurement.

I have zero interest in what ‘equivalent focal length’ my lens is on full frame because I don’t own a full frame camera, my lenses don’t fit on any full frame camera and when out in the field actually using the camera it’s completely meaningless and offers nothing to how I’m going to capture a shot.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

Well, maybe you should take some interest into this because if 35mm focal length is considered a "wide" focal length thn it may be true for a FF camera but not for your APS-C system where this focal length will be considered rather as "normal" (close to 50mm on FF).
In other words, same focal length for different sensors will give you different perspective and since we are having discussion about focal lengths usable for landscape photography it would be nice to be more specific.

Stuart Carver's picture

I have absolutely zero reason to give a shit what focal lengths are on full frame cameras, i mind my own business about focal lengths on my own system, I learn what focal lengths on my system are good for whatever image I’m trying to produce, equivalence means nothing to me.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

My man, you are still missing the point because you refuse to look past your personal playground and your toys.
If you were shooting micro 4/3 system and without disclosing this fact started telling people that "35mm is a great short telephoto focal length for portraits that offers very little distortion and nice compression" then folks who have FF cameras would think you are nuts.
There is a reason why every lens that is not dedicated for FF will actually have FF focal length listed in specifications.
Apparently everyone gives a shit but you. Talk about the whole world being against you. Smh.

I tend to ignore topics that don’t interest me. But crashing a party, plugging your ears and stomping your feet, insisting that people stop talking because you don’t care also works I suppose.

Oh, and BTW: r/woosh

Stuart Carver's picture

My original point was there was absolutely no need for the above poster to end his post with ‘Also, just to be clear the 23mm is 35mm on FF’, it’s not adding anything at all to the OPs comment, he simply said which of his lenses he uses and what the picture was taken with. We can go around in circles all we want but the shot was taken on a 23mm (the point where the light converges in front of the sensor) lens and that’s what he said.

That comment above stinks of someone trying to be a know it all.

Stuart Carver's picture

And whilst we are on, you really need to understand what the term ‘whoosh’ refers to.

Deleted Account's picture

That is lovely.

The headline draws folks into the article. "Best" is relative to the situation. True - wide-angle is not necessarily the best choice for any subject.

John Adams's picture

Like anything else in the world, it all depends on the situation and the respective use of the correct equipment for the results you want to get.

Rayann Elzein's picture

If you don't have a really interesting foreground, a wide angle lens can be quite challenging when shooting landscapes. I wouldn't say that there is one lens that is best or not best for landscapes, because I guess it depends on tastes and style for each photographer. But I do understand this article, I shoot most of my landscapes with my 100-400 or 70-200, whichever I travel with (usually I don't bring both on the same trip).

Robert Huerbsch's picture

Have you tried the RF 24-105L? Much sharper than the 3 EF 24-105Ls I had before, especially in the corners.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Nope, if I go back to Canon it'll probably be one of my first investments ;)

I would consider this architectural rather than landscape. After all, the prime consideration is how the lighthouse looks in the final image. I agree with the sentiments expressed in the article but no need to make it so "click-baity".

Rayann Elzein's picture

Sadly it's how this website works, and look it worked, we both clicked on an article we would have otherwise never opened, and moreover, commented on it :D

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

I so wish I could have called it "I got great light at a lighthouse", but that would have generated 200 clicks... luckily, you can actually grab attention and deliver quality. And technically it isn't click-bait, that would have been more something like... "I learned wide angles were best for landscapes, but then I went here..." or something like that :P

Great post but I think you have inclined it towards the technology only. There is some emotional attachment with printed photos which I have covered in my post. Have a look at Macy’s Departmental Stores | Saving Rite ( https://savingrite.com/major-departmental-stores-in-usa/ )

Leon Kolenda's picture

Wow, This is one of the best articles FS has published in a while! I love lighthouses. I just got a G9 and a 24-70, but was just thinking about getting a 16-35, for it, I might have to rethink that. Oh well, it's only money! LOL. I learned a lot from this article! Thank you.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

I'm happy to hear that, Leon :)

Jim Kennedy's picture

Shot at 13:30 is my pick. Great photos all though. Brave to take the gear in the blowing sand!

Alex Herbert's picture

Is that THE Lighthouse from the movie?

Simon Anderson's picture

Its all subjective, I shoot with a Tamron 15-30 which is on my camera 97% of the time.
The wider the better but that works for me and my style, just do what works for you and your style :-)