Tutorial: How to Pick the Best Focal Length When Capturing Landscapes

Put together by photographer Steve Perry, the video tutorial above shares a collection of useful tips, advice and examples that help explain how to best think of and use focal lengths when you’re out capturing landscape photography.

Dispelling the myth that there is a “right” focal length for all landscape photography, Perry breaks down how every scene often requires a different lens, and why zooms should never be used as “cropping tools.”


He also shows how the relationship between subjects changes as the perspective and focal length change, breaking down what is an otherwise complicated concept into a concise run-through.

Whether you’re a seasoned vet looking for a solid refresher, or you’re just now getting into photography and parsing through the complex world of lenses, be sure to give this very useful tutorial a once (or twice) over.

(via ISO 1200)

  • JordanCS13

    He obviously has a grasp on all this stuff, and this is a great video for those leaning how to compose using different lenses. It’s worth noting, however, that the relationship between objects in the frame, though is 100% determined by the position! and really has nothing to do with the focal length at all. Of course, having the right focal length will provide the framing you want for the image, with the perspective you want as determined by the camera position.

    In other words, if he stood where he was for the 60mm shot and took the image with his 24mm lens, then cropped it to the 60mm framing, the shot would be identical to the 60mm shot, except for having lower resolution (provided the apertures were the same physical size.

  • Mark

    I am not sure that I understand the cropping comment. I always try compose by walking around to get the perspective and lighting I want and then select the focal length to do the job – effectively just using the zoom to crop what I see. If someone cares about their image composition then I it is hard to imagine them not doing this – hardly an advanced technique…

  • Jiří Růžek

    if you think so … ;)

  • Louie

    Not completely true. A longer lens compresses perspective and affects size relations in the frame.

  • JordanCS13

    No, it does not. See my article posted below. perspective is 100% based on camera position in relation to the subject and background. That’s it.

  • Andreas

    JordanCS13 is right. The perspective compression comes from the distance not from the focal length.

  • Andreas

    JordanCS13 is right. The perspective compression comes from the distance not from the focal length. After cropping the image from the 24mm to 60mm frame the image is the same.

  • Jiří Růžek

    well, I have tried it and you are right. Sorry, my mistake :) and a surprise for me :)

  • Ian R

    That’s technically correct, you can crop an image shot with a 24mm lens and crop it to 60mm and get the same framing (at a much lower resolution and different depth of field).

    It might be helpful to the discussion if you complete your thought and say why this is worth noting?

  • Chang He

    But then you’d be cropping. Which is suboptimal, since you waste a portion of your shot and the optimal file size. Of course, if you’re just using your DSLR to upload to instagram it won’t matter, but if you have quality in mind, it does.

  • Sarah BK

    Hmmm… I see your point there Jordan – and you’re probably right. The lower resolution is a bit of a waste though, but as you said that perspective is still achievable.

    I guess the importance he shed on focal lengths instead is because you can’t do the reverse of your example? (that is, stand at the 24mm shot position and get a shot equivalent to the 24mm with the 60mm?) Say he preferred the shot with the 24mm, how would he have achieved that with the 60mm?

  • Sarah BK

    I’ve always wanted to see a visualization of this concept at the back of my mind, and I’m glad to have come across this video!

    Very simple and helpful – certainly another concept to try keep in mind and apply for future photos.

  • AluKed

    You can actually capture a 24mm FoV shot with a 60mm, but you’ll need a gimbal head and a lot of elbow grease to shoot a lot of pictures and then stitch them together to get the same FoV. The result will be higher resolution (I’ve done similar when shooting architecture, before).

  • pgb0517

    Yes, but part of the point the presenter was making is that if you want to adjust the view so that foreground elements are the same but get a different view of the background, you do have to move the camera and use the different focal length. Then, as he demonstrated, the background elements look different. He wasn’t talking about standing in one place.

  • Sarah BK

    Ah – didn’t think of that! So it is technically possible :)

    It is a bit more tedious though right? Having to take many more pictures and get them all stitched etc, and you need a decent tripod head too. Quality might pay off perhaps, and may save one the need of buying a really good wide angle if one only owned a good 60mm-range lens.

  • Luovahulluus

    Google Brenizer method

  • Sarah BK

    I have – thank you.

    The shallower depth of field is another advantage of that technique – it should be great to experiment with :)

  • John MacLean Photography

    Did my post get deleted?

  • JordanCS13

    Of course. I was not intending to say that one should take shots with wide angles and crop to the shot, but rather clarifying that perspective is solely a function of position. It is, of course, imperative to choose the correct focal length to frame the shot the way you want once you’ve positioned yourself for the perspective you want. I think the video is spot on in what it is describing, I just wanted to clarify the perspective thing, as many, many people assign the change in perspective to the lens rather than the moving of the shooter.

  • David Mitchell

    JordanCS13: “100% determined by the position! and really has nothing to do with the focal length at all.”

    But; to take Jordan’s example – with a 50mm, you can position all you wish and crop to your hearts content, you will not get the same shot of a horse silhouette by a huge sunset backdrop without the super-telephoto (focal length).

  • David Mitchell

    It is a nice video covering some creative fundamentals.

    A creatively interesting approach, regarding ‘perspective & field of view’ are that – “the fundamentals unique to photography is that through the use of imaging optics (the camera lens), light can be gathered, focused and captured from dimensions of space that are normally unobtainable to the naked-eye and previously oblivious to human understanding. An example is the optical function of the microscope which allowed us a doorway to access a microcosmic world previously invisible to human awareness and optics again allowed us to observe real-time objects deep into the far reaches of outer space. Thus, photography through the use of various camera lenses allows the image-maker to peer into and creatively translate these states of dimensional reality in ways few have seen or experienced. The image-maker can also (if desirable), alter or warp perspective or angle of view as with a 16mm fisheye, exploring the place of a child’s world ‘between the window curtains’ or by the perspective compressing 1200mm super-telephoto. These ‘altered state of awareness’ are among a key expression of ‘Art’.”
    I would post my article (‘Is Photography Real Art – Is Photoshop, Photography?’) on the subject but think web-links are forbidden.

  • Zos Xavius

    Agreed, and this is why I prefer zooms for general walk around purposes. With a prime you are forced to walk closer or further away and your perspective changes. I like shooting with primes too, but its really hard to deny the creative possibilities zooms offer as well.

  • dos_sentimos

    If you crop the photo taken using 24mm will it have the same perspective compression like that of 60mm?

  • JordanCS13

    Yes, it will. I wrote an article on the subject a few months ago, including example photos. It can be found on my site (view my profile) and search for perspective.

  • David Mitchell

    Jordan; what is the title of your article so that I may read it (links are disallowed).

  • dos_sentimos

    I tried it a while ago, and you are right Jordan. Thanks!

  • John MacLean Photography

    Are we not allowed to post links here? My posts keep getting deleted. WTF?

  • gaminos

    Would be the same with the trees in the extreme corner of the framing of a FF 17mm ?

  • Vlad Dusil

    Comments with embedded links go into moderation queue and have to be approved manually by a mod.

  • John MacLean Photography

    Thanks for clearing that up for me Vlad!

  • Tobias W.

    It’s rather obvious, isn’t it? For impactful images with well chosen perspectives, a photographer shouldn’t care about the focal length AT ALL and purely define their perspective based on where they stand. THEN they can choose the magnification (crop) of the scene by choosing the best focal length for what they want, AFTER they already chose the right perspective.

    That tutorial video is useless from a teaching (and understanding) point of view, because it fails to point out what perspective is, how it is defined and that it’s only the point of view (d’oh, it’s named like that for a reason, right?) that influences the perspective.

    I guess we live in an illiterate world where people rather trust and “learn” from “Internet Pros” on Youtube, rather than pick up on a proper subject matter text book by the likes of Ansel Adams and such.

  • JordanCS13

    Perspective – Correcting an Oft-repeated Myth

  • Ron

    Maybe so but try getting this compression without a super-telephoto… ;-)

  • Matheus Reck de Oliveira

    I agree with almost everythig JordanCS13 mentioned, but I have to disagree in one point: the resolution will not be the only difference. There are two very important differences that should be considered as well:

    1) At wider angles(shorter focal lengths), the distortion on the edges of the image is much more evident. On the other hand, higher focal lengths, specially with long focus lenses, the effect to the planes is totally different.

    2) the bokeh effect by shorter depths of field may be totally different.

  • Mike

    Yes you will. You will stand just as far from that subject as with your telephoto lens. The perspective will be 100% the same. Just because the interesting area of the scene will fall on only, for example, 5000 pixels instead of 12 million, is a different matter.

  • Richard

    you can post links, just add the word “dot” for “.”

  • Chris Blair

    Great info, thanks!

  • Banan Tarr

    Take it to the conclusion: if you understand perspective you won’t have to walk all over the place looking for a shot. You’ll be able to envision the perspective in the field. This saves me a lot of time… Of course there’s always an element of exploring and experimenting but if one has a goal, and understands the fundamental principles, it will be far easier to achieve that goal.

  • John MacLean Photography

    Vlad, well I see my 2nd post attempt got approved, but the URL link isn’t in the post.