If you’re like most landscape photographers, your go-to lens is a wide-angle. There is certainly nothing wrong with using a wide-angle lens, but limiting yourself to shorter focal lengths might mean you miss out on capturing landscapes in a new, interesting, and unique way.
There are plenty of reasons why a zoom lens is advantageous for landscape photography, but two of them stand out above the rest: you can get more creative with your compositions, and you can highlight the smaller details of a large landscape.
With a wide-angle lens you can get away with the “postcard shot,” or a general, sweeping view of the landscape. But with a zoom lens, it’s imperative that you slow things down, analyze the scene, and concentrate on all aspects of the composition to ensure you’ve got an eye-catching shot. This might mean you examine the lighting to find interesting shadows, explore the beach for textures or patterns that make for a dynamic subject, or zoom in tightly on a mountain peak to make it’s height seem more grand.
What’s more, at longer focal lengths, the scene becomes more compressed, meaning, distant features look closer. This means with a zoom lens, the far-off mountain looks larger in the frame, which can totally change the dynamic of the image for the better. You can fill the frame with features of the landscape - a waterfall, a stand of trees, or a cliffside - to name but a few, perhaps even eliminating the horizon, as was done in the image above.
Highlight the Details
When viewing a landscape, it’s easy to forget that within all the beauty of the larger scene there are little details everywhere. Those details can be turned into the subject for your images. A zoom allows you to deconstruct the landscape, finding smaller vignettes to turn into the primary subject of the scene.
In this regard, a zoom lens can help you tell a more detailed story of the landscape. You have more leeway with the perspective: the zoom allows you to look up, look down, and look across the scene, finding interesting vignettes to feature in your images that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to capture with a wide-angle lens. So, rather than having a single image of a landscape from a wide-angle view, you can take viewers on a tour of different aspects of the landscape with zoomed in photos of the smaller details.
By highlighting those smaller details, you’re able to create an image that is perhaps more orderly than one taken with a wide-angle lens. Sometimes, landscapes just have too much going on, and the viewer’s eye has trouble knowing where to focus. By zooming in and simplifying the scene, you might be able to make the viewing experience one that is more pleasant.
Of course, how you photograph landscapes is up to you. After all, photography is an art form, and your personal tastes should dictate how you capture the scene. That being said, don’t discount the value of using a zoom lens for landscapes. You might just find that telling a story via a series of detailed shots is more to your liking than sticking with a wide-angle view. The key is to experiment and develop your personal style along the way. Using a zoom lens will help you do just that.