Should you use a 35mm lens for landscape photography? Or are you better off with other glass, such as a wide-angle zoom (e.g., a 12-24mm) or even a telephoto lens (e.g., a 70-200mm)?
I love 35mm landscape photography. In this article, I explain why 35mm is such a special focal length, and why I encourage everyone to give it a try, no matter their skill level. I also offer a handful of 35mm landscape photography tips, so that – when you do get your hands on a 35mm lens – you can hit the ground running.
And, of course, I share plenty of 35mm landscape photo examples along the way!
Let’s dive right in.
If you’ve never used a 35mm lens for landscape photography, you’re missing out! Here are just a few of the many reasons 35mm is a great landscape focal length:
Every focal length corresponds to a field of view – that is, the amount of the world that it captures.
Now, ultra-wide lenses offer a very wide field of view, but while that’s great for capturing expansive scenes, an ultra-wide lens makes the world appear, well, wide. Use a 12mm lens, for instance, and the world will recede; individual details will look tiny, and you’ll feel like the whole world is situated in front of your face.
Telephoto lenses, on the other hand, give a very narrow field of view. They’re good for shooting details, and they’re great for distant landscape scenes, but they exclude so much from the frame that you’ll struggle to really capture the essence of a place.
But 35mm lenses…
On a full-frame camera body, a 35mm lens offers a slightly wide field of view. It’s a little wider than the eye sees (not taking into account peripheral vision), but it still feels pretty natural, which means that you’ll feel very comfortable very quickly, and you’ll be able to capture beautiful compositions without a whole lot of mental gymnastics.
Plus, the wide-angle effect is good for capturing entire landscape scenes. To get a sense of the 35mm field of view, check out this next image:
Note that, to achieve the same field of view on a crop-sensor camera, you’ll need a shorter focal length (generally around 24mm). If you use a 35mm lens on an APS-C camera, you’ll get an effective 50mm focal length, which is still decent for landscape shots but doesn’t offer the expansiveness of a 35mm lens.
Many photographers love to use their widest lens and photograph as much of the landscape as possible. But wider focal length lenses are plagued by distortion, which gives rise to various problems, including tilted trees and curved horizons.
Unfortunately, once a landscape becomes distorted by a lens, you’ll need to make corrections using editing software. And if corrections aren’t made, or aren’t well made, the photographs will look a little odd. (Sometimes a lot odd.)
But while 35mm lenses do give a wide field of view (see the previous section!), they’re not so wide that distortion becomes prevalent. In other words, 35mm is a great focal length if you need the wide-angle effect but you don’t want distortion to get in the way.
You might be wondering:
Can I use a lens longer than 35mm to avoid distortion? Yes, you can, but lenses with a focal length of around 70mm or longer often lead to compression; in other words, they make elements in your frame appear unnaturally close together. Sometimes this works well in landscape photography, but it can be problematic if you want your photos to look as realistic as possible.
Bottom line: A 35mm lens provides a wide enough angle of view, yet it doesn’t risk major distortion. It’s a win-win.
There is no one best focal length for landscape photography. When you shoot, you must match the focal length to the location and the subject, which means that you will come across scenes that require an ultra-wide field of view; you will also come across scenes that require a tight telephoto field of view.
But in my experience, 35mm works great for all kinds of subjects. In particular, it fits well with the style of landscape photography I prefer.
You see, at 35mm, I can capture enough of a scene without having to crop in post-processing – whereas when working with a wider lens, I often get too much of the scene in my composition, and I’m forced to crop later.
Plus, there are times when you can’t get close to your landscape scene. Maybe you’re shooting from a bridge or the edge of a precipice and you cannot move any closer. In such situations, a 35mm focal length is your friend, because it gives you a field of view that’s wide, but not too wide.
If you’re serious about 35mm landscape photography and you want to take your photos to the next level, then read on for my best tips:
Most 35mm lenses offer wide apertures, and when you’re just starting out, you may be tempted to open that aperture right up – just because you can.
But resist that temptation, even in low light. While shooting at f/1.4 might give you faster shutter speeds, it’ll give you an extremely shallow depth of field, and landscape photos generally look best when most of the image is acceptably sharp.
So instead of using an ultra-wide aperture, stop down your lens to f/8 or so. And if you’re struggling to get a fast-enough shutter speed for a sharp shot, put your camera on a tripod or boost your ISO. That way, you’ll keep the entire landscape sharp, from foreground to background.
The exception to this advice, by the way, is when you include an interesting foreground element in your composition. With a powerful foreground subject, you can widen the aperture and let the background blur – though I still wouldn’t recommend shooting at your lens’s widest aperture.
Landscape photography is often understandably captured in landscape orientation…
…but if you’re after unique 35mm landscape shots, then why not try to mix it up a bit? Instead of shooting constantly in landscape mode, flip your camera and take some portrait-orientation images.
Aim to include an interesting foreground subject, or at least shoot when the sky is particularly dramatic. And look for tall elements that can fill the entire portrait frame!
My local landscape features tall, slender palm trees. I find that composing with my camera held vertically gives a very interesting result:
When you’re on a landscape photo outing, do you take the first shot you notice, then move on? Or do you stick around, trying out different landscape compositions, looking for different angles, and shooting five, ten, or even twenty frames?
My recommendation? Always shoot more than the obvious shot. You might immediately spot a great vista and think you’ve found the best composition, but there are likely other, superior compositions – you just haven’t found them yet! So if you notice a great shot, sure, go ahead: stop and take some photos.
But then, with your 35mm lens still on your camera, walk around and consider the scene from different angles.
Many zoom lens users are prone to standing in the same place, taking a few shots at different focal lengths, then moving on. They don’t walk around enough, and that’s a mistake.
So test out different compositions. Explore many options from all sorts of angles. You’ll often be surprised by how many other great points of view you discover.
Once you find a landscape you think will work well with your 35mm lens, stop and consider the rules of composition. You don’t want to take a casual snapshot; instead, you want to create a compelling image that engages the viewer and takes them on a journey through the frame.
So think about compositional rules, and use any tools you have at your disposal. Are there strong lines for you to work with? Can you position your camera so one or more lines run diagonally across your frame? Try out different angles (see the previous tip!) and don’t stop until you find a composition that’s truly satisfying.
The rule of thirds is also helpful for 35mm landscape photography. Try placing the horizon so you have two-thirds land and one-third sky; this often creates a well-balanced composition. But don’t stop there! Look for an element that will frame the landscape. Frame-within-a-frame techniques work great, and they can make even a bland landscape look interesting.
As should now be obvious, I love my 35mm lens for landscape photography! In fact, it’s so versatile that it’s often the only lens I carry.
So the next time you’re out shooting landscapes, try using a 35mm lens. You’ll quickly come to appreciate the natural field of view and its incredible potential!
Now over to you:
Do you plan to use a 35mm lens for your landscape photography? Share your thoughts in the comments below!