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Why and How to use a Portrait Lens for Landscape Photography

Manuel Becker Manuel Becker in Tips & Tricks
28.04.2018 · 4 min read
Photo by Manuel Becker

The typical lens for any landscape photographer is usually something wide like a 16-35mm and anything within the frame needs to be razor sharp and well exposed. Using a portrait lens can add refreshing and exciting new perspectives though and here is why and how.

I’m a very typical city- and landscape photographer and if you are one as well, the chances are pretty high that you use a similar „workflow“ to mine when taking the photos. It’s often the same procedure by using a tripod, a remote control, setting the f-stop somewhere between 8 and 11 to get a clean and sharp photo and maybe using filters or techniques like Focus Stacking or Exposure Blending with Luminosity Masks. But in general, that’s it. The whole process very much depends on the spot itself, which is fine most of the time, because this gives me time to enjoy these places while doing my „landscape photography thing“, but it’s also always the same workflow at different places. That’s the reason why I wanted to switch things up and started to use a portrait lens to get back again into a more dynamic way of photography without a tripod.

The reason behind the lens

Quite a lot of landscape photographers are using tele lenses all the time or at least carry one with them. I did that as well when I started to get serious about my photography until I began to minimize my equipment by focusing on less to improve my photography. This boosted the quality of my photography by so much, that I finally feel the urge to try different things again after many years of improving within just one type of photography I am now extremely good at. Getting a second lens was a hard decision for me because I really didn’t want to go back to using a 70-200mm lens. I loved using this lens back at that time, but I used it so rarely that it wasn’t worth at all the money and especially the weight I had to carry with me. A typical portrait lens, which is in my opinion around 85mm focal length for a full frame camera like my Sony A7 II, is usually much lighter and in my case has a weight of only 370g for a lens with f1.8. Compared to a 70-200 f2.8, you would have to carry around 1,5kg with you and pay 4 times the price and still wouldn’t have the same light sensitivity. Of course being able to zoom in even more and be more flexible about the focal length is awesome, but this also contradicts against my rule of staying focussed and traveling as light as possible. This is for sure something you have to decide on your own, but in my case, in retrospective, it was a very good choice.

Why and How to use a Portrait Lens for Landscape Photography

I really love my wide angle lens, but photos like that wouldn't be possible without any kind of zoom to get the desired framing. This photo was taken in the only tea plantation area in Europe which is located in the north of Sao Miguel, Azores.

Finding great subjects

You can use the lens like any other tele lens to get some closer photos from any landscape, which is definitely fine, but this is also nearly the same type of photography again. So I wanted to use this lens primarily to combine landscapes with a person in the foreground more often. This is not only nice because these images currently work extremely well on Instagram (you can read more about that in my article about 10 tricks on how to get more followers on Instagram), but it also adds some really nice depth to your photos, which is usually something you need to create by finding a good foreground for your scene. Extremely great are places from above with a cliff and a wide view if I had to make a specific suggestion about what I would search for. The idea behind these scenes is to be able to have enough space around the subject to still capture the landscape itself. Alleys are also a great choice for photos that benefit quite a lot from a person within the frame, giving everything a really nice dimension.

Why and How to use a Portrait Lens for Landscape Photography

This is a good choice for the framing of the image because she is standing at a cliff and the background behind her is blurred a bit, which gives the photo a better dimension.

Why and How to use a Portrait Lens for Landscape Photography

This perspective is not that good because I am also standing at the same cliff in this photo, but another cliff behind me is kind of blocking the depth within this image. I am not that visible because of the many different colors and shapes behind me. This is also the case why many photographers wear very colorful jackets.

The biggest differences to the standard landscape photography are the depth of focus and the timing because that’s something that might even look better during the day. Usually, I pay so much effort to capture everything within the photo as sharp as possible, but this type of photography might even benefit from using f1.8 with a subtle background, which is usually still recognizable at a focal length of 85mm. This depends very much on your personal taste of course. I really like to have the focus on the person and use an impressive landscape as a background element, which doesn’t need to be razor sharp, because this adds more dimension and focus to the photo.

Which lenses are you primarily using? As always I would love to hear your opinion about this article in the comments below!

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Comments (14)

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Greg Tackett
Greg Tackett 03.01.2020
I've also realized that with a static scene, when I want a wide angle, I can post-process a panorama from multiple prime lens shots and wind up with higher resolution and sharpness. Didn't work so well in the bamboo forest in the breeze though!
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 03.01.2020
Yeah everything that is moving is definitely tricky... ;-)
Sen Sejus
Sen Sejus 30.12.2018
BTW, when talking about the 70-200, why do You need the F2.8? For landscapes the F4 might be enough and also lightweight.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 30.12.2018
Hey Sen, that's also a good option. I felt that a f2.8 prime lens gives me also the option to do some portraits, because that's what you will also probably get asked for by family and friends when you "do photography"... ;-) Thank you for your opinion, really appreciate that!
Sen Sejus
Sen Sejus 30.12.2018
Thanks for fast response. Agree about the portraits, but I personally prefer including more surroundings when photographing family, especially during travel, so for these purposes the F4 is enough. And if I need more bokeh, then I try to use longer focal length (200mm) and with F4 this already gives enough bokeh I think. Finally thanks for these usefull blogs, hope to see new of them in the future.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 30.12.2018
Yeah, I think that should work as well. I really love the sharpness of prime lenses and already see such a huge difference to my 16-35mm f4 that already was pretty expensive. Bug I guess that highly depends on the lens itself and I can't see any reason why 70-200 f4 isn't a good choice as well, so fully agree with you here. Definitely will write more articles in the future, I am just trying to write less ones and take more time for them to have a higher quality.
the-digi-picture.com 06.05.2018
Sometimes I use a Tamron 45 mm 1.8 lens on my Canon crop camera for landscapes. I find it useful if I want to show only a certain part of the scenery. Or if I cannot get close enough for the wide angle lens.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 06.05.2018
f1.8 is definitely nice because it gives you a few more options you usually don't need with a wide angle lens.
the-digi-picture.com 06.05.2018
Yep, although I hardly use it at 1.8. While image quality is more than decent at 1.8 my (subjective) perception is that sharpness is much better if used at f 2 or even 2.8. An example would be the photo for this spot: https://www.locationscout.net/switzerland/12055-seepromenade-zuerich It was shot with the 45 mm at f 2 because I wanted the boats to be a key subject in the photo. Sadly I'm not Jesus so walking over water wasn't an option ;-) hence I took the 45 mm prime lens. An nice side effect of the tele lens is it also compressed the background, seemingly shortening the distances.
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 07.05.2018
Fully agree, it definitely depends very much on what you are trying to show. Sometimes you want everything in focus and sometimes it's better to use unsharpness to get the focus to the sharp aspects of the image. Nice photo by the way, you definitely need to work on the "walking over the water"-thing though :-D
AurèLphotog 04.05.2018
I Looooooove my 85 ! I 100% agree you
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 04.05.2018
Oh yeah, it's quite awesome. Which other lenses are you using?
Dalibor Hanzal
Dalibor Hanzal 02.05.2018
I think having an 85mm prime lense also forces you to be more creative as you need to run around more. So in long term, it's better for your health :D
Manuel Becker
Manuel Becker 02.05.2018
Haha so true Dalibor! This is probably one of the best reasons to get a prime lens... :-) Maybe there will be even a question in every insurance form in the future to reduce the monthly health insurance costs: "Are you using a prime lens?" ;-)
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