Is there a right lens for every scene?

Every once in a while, I get this question on a workshop, “Blake what is the right lens for this scene?”  I usually look at what the person is shooting and make my judgment based on the time of day, the subject matter and sometimes the speed of the lens.   Those are all great ideas for choosing the right lens, but what if you want to capture the personalities of the scene?  Is there ever a right lens for that?

When we were in Yosemite, we stopped at Tunnel View several times.  The first few times we stopped I shot it with my “go-to” 16-35mm lens.  As many of you know, I call myself the “Wide Angle Junkie” because I tend to weight pretty heavily for wide angle lenses.  However, I got quite bored shooting Tunnel View repeatedly at 16mm.

Right-Lens-Yosemite-Tunnel-View-Small

As I was shooting a longer exposure than normal, I noticed all the little intricacies of the scene while my exposure was being recorded.  I decided to switch on a 50mm to see if I could get a more tight crop on some of the features of the Valley.  After seeing things tighter with the 50mm, I went to my telephoto zoom and started to navigate the scene at 70 mm, then 125mm, then 200, then 300.  I even went so far as to put my a7rII in forced Crop sensor mode to get 450mm of reach.

Needless to say, I got addicted.  I started to think about the different personalities of Tunnel View that are not prominent at 16mm.  What I noticed about our week there was that as I started to learn the names of the different places in the Valley, El Capitan, Sentinel Dome, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, the Three Brothers, I started to notice them more.  I noticed how light would hit them at different times of the day, and I began to look for them at every stop in the valley to see what angle would portray their personalities the best.

I know, I am talking about granite structures as if they are people, but if you want to be a successful landscape photographer you almost have to!  It is possible to capture the personality of a scene with your camera; you just have to know where and how to look for it.

Personalities-of-Tunnel-View

Is there a right lens for every scene?  

Not necessarily, but each lens will allow you to see the landscape’s personalities differently.  This weekend, go out with three lenses, your widest, your mid range, and your telephoto zoom.  It doesn’t have to be the best telephoto zoom, heck I use the Canon 70-300 f4 – 5.6 (that I bought on rebate for $170 with my 6D with a Metabones adapter on my Sony).  It is a Frankenstein setup, to say the least, but it works.   Now do the following:

  1. Go out, walk around your scene for 45 minutes without taking a picture.  Notice how the light hits certain areas and find a place that speaks to you the most.
  2. Put your wide on and shoot to document the scene.
  3. Then put the 50 on and get a tighter crop of the subject.  As you navigate with your 50, think about the areas you want to pinpoint with your telephoto.
  4. Take your telephoto to 70, then 120, then 150, then 200, then 300.  Go deeper and build compositions that show the personalities of every aspect of the scene.

There is no right lens except for the lens you have with you.  Go out, make the best you can with what you have, but think about how to capture the personality of the scene.  You will find that the lens is less important than the personality you are capturing.

Blake Rudis
Creator of f.64 Academy
Most people think I am passionate about Photography, but in reality I am not.

WHAT!?!

Wait, before you freak out, you are on a photo site, I am addicted to post processing. To be more specific, I am addicted to workflow efficiency and cracking the codes to complex systems. That's what I do here, crack the code to photo post processing and present it in a concise way, for you :)
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