How To Choose the Right Focal Length in Landscape Photography

It is quite often overlooked when it comes down to creating a stunning photograph, although it has a big impact on the composition and even on the story of an image. We are talking about the right focal length. Avoid one of the biggest traps about focal lengths and find out how to impact your composition with the right lens.

It is often seen when a photographer gets a new lens: most of their next photographs are taken with that new glass only. Maybe that special focal range was not in their bag before and they feel that this new lens could be a big game-changer for their photography. But the problem is compositions are often built up then just for the sake of the lens. And then, the focal range gets chosen independently of the composition.

I have to put my own hand up here. I know this phenomenon not only from visitors of my workshops but myself as well. New lenses have to be tried out. And there is nothing wrong with that. This could even be really good training because you are limited to a particular focal range, which gets challenging. This can stimulate your creativity and supports your improvement as a photographer. This is why it is even recommendable to limit yourself to a particular focal range or even a single focal length from time to time.

How can the focal length impact the story? For me, the focal length is an important stylistic instrument to emphasize the story I want to convey. Imagine you are standing in front of an impressing giant mountain, for instance, and you grab your ultra-wide angle lens. The most impressive giant would quickly turn into a starved gnome in your photograph.

This is okay if you don’t want to emphasize the dominance of the mountain. But in the case that it was the dominance of the mountain you were attracted to, which led originally to the wish to photograph it, you should consider exactly that trigger. You should ask yourself: do you want to tell the story of a giant mountain or a gnome peak? This is how the focal length has an impact on your story.

In most cases, we want to get depth in our photographs, and manipulating perspective is a great way to do this. The trick is here to find the right balance between the size of the foreground and that of the distant elements. This is the reason why I’m so happy with zoom lenses. I can choose exactly that frame I want to have and I can decide the size difference between the foreground and the distant elements.

Many more details and even more tips about how to choose the focal length out in the field, especially for landscape photography, are revealed in the video above.

Christian Irmler's picture

Christian Irmler is a passioned landscape photographer from Austria who comes from a line of artists.
He engages already his whole life with the compositions of the paintings of his family. In 1990 he began with photography and started to implement all his knowledge from painting into his photography.

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The question should be rather "How to carry every single lens you need for landscape photography when you're hiking".

Oh yes - this is how we can turn our camera bag into a kind of "photographic gym" :)
I usually never take more than 3 lenses with me (my vlogging gear not included). With a "holy triology" of 3 different focal ranges, I cover nearly everything I'd ever need for landscape photography. Just my special lenses stay either at home or in my van - I just grab them when I'm going to photograph something special.
Thank you for your comment and nice greetings,

there is no "right" distance to photograph the grand canyon, or Buckingham Palace. The Alhambra has been shot from 2 inches away and from 5 miles out.

bring a 24 (on a full-frame) - anything shorter takes a lot of skill to make the subject the picture and not the guy with the camera

and unless you're taking spy shots of a nazi hard-water plant in norway, something between an 85 and a 135 is more than enough to cut away the distractions

Hi Charles, yes, that's true - there is no "right" distance for capturing subjects. But the focal length has - due to the different perspective - an impact to the composition and considering this can really make a big difference to the final result.
Thank you so much for your comment and nice greetings,