What is your Primary Lens for Shooting Landscapes?

I got an email the other day asking about lenses I use for landscape photos. I appreciate that someone thought my opinion would be valuable, so I started to send a response, but then thought I might as well respond via a new post. Here is the actual question so we are all on the same page:

I noticed you posted your equipment list on your website and I’m hoping you can provide me with a little advice.  I recently purchased my fist DSLR (Canon Rebel Xsi) and use it primarily to photograph my 2-year old son.  The only lense I have is the kit lense that came with the camera (which is a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6).

You take great photos and I really like the landscape photos in your Portfolio (http://www.cyberward.net/photography/).  We spend a lot of time outdoors so, if you don’t mind, what is your primary lense for shooting landscapes?  I’m looking for big, bright colors and crisp, clean images.

First of all, thanks Thomas for the compliment, and congrats on getting a Digital Rebel, so lets take a look at the two questions.

Now this may surprise you, but the bright colors and crisp, clean images can come from your camera. You don’t need another lens for that. The lens has very little to do with color. That has to do with the way your camera is set to convert the image to JPEG. I don’t have a Canon camera, but I am certain that there are picture settings of some sort like portrait, landscape, normal, vivid, etc. I am not talking about the ones on the top dials that modify the shutter and aperture, but settings that control how much color, contrast, and sharpening the camera does. I usually have mine set on vivid or landscape. Play around. Take one picture at each setting and see what you like.

If you don’t have the “Digital Photography Book” (vol 1, II, III) by Scott Kelby, you may want to check them out. Also see my books section.

The second part to this is post processing. Get to know iPhoto, Picasa, Lightroom, Photoshop (Elements), or what ever image editor you have access to. Play with your images. I usually bring up the blacks, maybe a little saturation or vibrancy, something that adds some contrast like clarity or definition, and probably some sharpening. I don’t go overboard, but a little can go a long way.

Again, check out my book section if you want some suggestions on books for image editing.

Ok, you mentioned sharpness. That’s a tough one, because there are so many variables. Your camera technique, your post production, the aperture you pick, and the lens all make a difference. There is more to it than just the lens. Each lens has an aperture sweet spot, and more expensive lenses have larger ones, but I don’t worry about it much. I pick the aperture I want, and let the pixel peepers worry which settings are the sharpest.

I shoot most of my landscapes and my kids with a 17-55 Nikkor. I moved up to it after owning a Tamron of similar focal length, and you can read about that here. Going to this lens over the kit lens gives me the ability to use larger apertures (f/2.8) and focus faster, which is important for kids, not so much for landscapes. I also use my 70-200mm VR Nikkor. I don’t have a wide angle lens, but it is likely the next on my list of things I would like to get. I have used some before, such as the 14-24 f/2.8 Nikkor on a D700 (wow!) and the 12-24 f/4 Nikkor on my D90. I really liked using them, but they take a different style of shooting to get good pictures from them.

I also wrote about the first gear, first lenses, and the first books you might buy in my first posts of this year.

Now, the gear that I wrote about here is Nikon, but Canon, Tamron, Sigma, Sony, etc. all have very similar products. What I suggest is that you rent a lens. We have a great store, West Photo in Minneapolis that rents lenses for a reasonable price.

I hope that answered your question. Fell free to leave comments if you have more questions.

3 thoughts on “What is your Primary Lens for Shooting Landscapes?

  1. Chris – Thanks for the quick and thorough response. As a newby I’m always curious to learn about the specific techniques used by more experienced photographers like you. This is very helpful and I will take your advice and look into the books you suggested. I will also read through the other posts you mentioned and look into renting a lens, which I didn’t realize was even an option (another great suggestion).

    I also appreciate your advice with regards to post processing in iPhoto and Photoshop (both of which I use). You mentioned that you “bring up the blacks, maybe a little saturation or vibrancy, something that adds some contrast like clarity or definition, and probably some sharpening”…this is great starting point for me and exactly the kind of specific advice I was hoping for.

    I have to admit that I’m a bit blown away by your response. That is, you could have more easily replied with something short, like “I like the 17-55 Nikkor.” Or, not responded at all. Instead you gave me a complete answer with some very useful and practical advice. THANK YOU!!!

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  3. Thomas, one thing to remember is that we are all on this photographic journey together. We may all be at different points, and the graph may not be a straight line, but we should all be both learning and sharing what we know every day we can.

    You made my day today. Your response made the banging away at the keyboard last night all worth it.

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