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Yup. What I want you to do right now is to forget everything you’ve heard or assumed about wide (or ultra-wide) landscape photography. Not the idea that you shouldn’t use it, but the idea that they’re the only option for landscape photos…
Well, that’s what we’re going to discuss in this article. We will start with the benefits of using a 50mm and conclude with some techniques and challenges.
It’s going to be a great read filled with information. It'll either convince you that 50mm landscape photography is viable or improve what you’re currently taking.
Let’s get started with benefits!
I don't want to come across as saying wide angle landscape photography is bad. Because it's not. Some of the best landscape photos of all time were captured wide - so a wide or ultra-wide lens is proven and will continue to be a very viable option.
What I'm saying is that landscapes taken at 50mm are different. When seen by the viewer, the look more natural - more 'real' I guess you would say.
That's why I support it so much, and preach to beginners that you can do almost anything with a 50mm lens.
You know a wide and definitely an ultra-wide, when you see one. Distortion is very apparent and verticals are never straight. Everything is stretched from the center of the image and objects in the distance are far smaller than you see them in real life.
A 50mm lens eliminates a lot of these issues. The benefits include:
We will touch a little bit on each of these benefits coming up, so stick around!
A prime lens is a fixed focal length, meaning that it does not zoom in and out. It usually has fewer moving parts than the average zoom lens which makes for sharper images. You may see some distortion on cheaper lenses but this can be easily corrected in post-processing with Photoshop or Lightroom.
The color rendering is more accurate because of less glass elements as well (compared to a zoom).
It's a pretty simple concept to grasp but I will include a video below with great comparisons.
This topic may be obvious to some, but a 50mm lens have compresses the foreground and background much more than a wide angle. If wide enough, there isn't any compression at all (or 'negative compression').
For those who don't know what lens compression is... it's basically an effect of the focal length on a photo that makes elements in the foreground or background appear closer to each other. This is what creates 'depth' and it's one of those features which can make your photos more interesting / dynamic.
Think of 'sandwiching' the foreground and background to your current focal plane.
I have included a video below that covers this in great detail.
With anything new and out of the norm - and assuming you like to take landscape on wide angle lenses... A 50mm lens will open new creative doors.
You can no longer zoom and have to physically move the camera if you want to 'zoom out or in'. Your framing and composition takes more thought to create (or spend all day moving your camera around).
Your aperture opens wider on a prime (most of the time). So if you're into taking blue hour landscapes and want to allow more light, then you have that option.
Ultimately, you'll have an image and process that you would have never had if you had taken it at a wide angle.
Let's talk about the nifty fifty.
I'm sure you all have heard the term before. This phrase was coined by those who highly valued the 50mm focal length for its capabilities. There are some who firmly believe you can capture 80% (or more) of all forms of photography with this focal length. I support these claims myself.
You can purchase a Canon 50mm lens for roughly $125 (give or take a few). This is the 50mm f/1.8. All other manufactures have their own versions with a similar price-point.
Now, compare this to an 'average' wide angle zoom. This would be a 16-35mm f/4. The cost of one, across the board, is about $1000. Of course, some are more and some are less (especially if bought used on Ebay or amazon). But you get the idea.
And wide angle primes are equally expensive (a good 24mm prime can run $1000+). Even 'off brand' manufacturers like Laowa make ultra-wide manual lenses that are great! But run $800+.
But think about it, their purpose is wide/ultra wide angle photos - nothing more. Want to take portraits? I wouldn't suggest it. What about indoor events and concerts? Eh, maybe to capture a shot of the entire venue... then what? You get my point I'm sure.
Compare the table above and below for price comparison.
|Sony Vario-Tessar T FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS||$1,034.96|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM||$1,099.00|
|Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED||$1,409.95|
|Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D Lens for Canon RF||$849.00|
|laowa 12 mm f/2.8 Zero-d Nikon AI MILC/SLR||$913.00|
|laowa 12 mm f/2.8 Zero-d Sony FE||$949.00|
|Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Ultra-Wide Angle (Canon EF)||$949.00|
Its size is perfect. Small enough to not add too much weight or space, yet versatile enough to take pretty much any photo you would need on vacation or traveling. The only exception in my opinion is wild-life photos. But again, a wild-life lens is in its own category and for an entirely different article.
You can even leave the lens mounted to your camera throughout your travels and pull it out and snap photos when you need it. As long as you have a little room to move around and get the distance you need, you'll be golden.
First off, there isn't much difference in settings between a wide angle and 50mm.
Seeing as you'll most likely have your camera on a tripod... you'll be able to set the shutter speed where you need it and not have to worry about camera shake/blur.
If you're taking long exposures, be sure to have a nice ND filter with you and a remote. I include the remote because you want to eliminate as much camera shake as possible. Even if you use the 2 or 10 second timer, you're still putting your hands on the camera, not eliminating camera shake entirely. I remote fixes that.
Not to mention, remotes are very inexpensive (I think my Sony remote was like $30).
I have included videos for this topic as well.
In relation to a 50mm - there is so much value even outside of landscapes. We're talking portraits, street photography, pet photography, cars, product, etc...
The only profession I would not recommend using a prime or 50mm on would be Real Estate photography/video. You would not get great results with the differing sizes of homes and rooms. A wide angle lens is great for that.
Value the process of taking a landscape photo with a 50mm. You'll create beautiful images that don't look like a typical landscape. This makes you and your work unique and will stand out from the rest of the wide-angle guys.
Yeah, the process is different, requires you to possibly do a little more work and think a little more about it - but in the end your result will be that much different from what you'd get out of a wide angle lens.
A 50mm lens is arguably the most versatile focal length on the planet (close with the 35mm, to some).
Embrace the journey of mastering it in the field of landscape photography.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you have learned a thing or two.
If anything, remember, if you decide to start taking landscapes with a 50mm... don't give up. If you aren't happy with that you see on the computer - find what you did wrong and exactly how to fix it.
Nothing great, or worth anything, happens overnight. It'll take a little practice and time to build the motor skills and mindset for it. But once you do, you have a skillset that most don't - and a look to your landscape photos than even fewer do.