When it comes to landscape photography, we often think of wide-angle lenses that capture the grandeur of sweeping vistas. But what if I told you that a 50mm lens could offer a whole new perspective? Indeed, thanks to a handful of unique features, this compact and unassuming lens has the power to capture landscape photos that stand out from the crowd.
In this article, we’ll explore the power of the 50mm focal length. First, you’ll discover why it’s such a good idea to use 50mm glass when shooting landscapes, then I’ll share tips and techniques that’ll help you elevate your results. And in case you’re struggling to choose the right 50mm lens, I’ll offer a few buying recommendations to help you out.
So prepare to journey into the captivating realm of 50mm landscape photography. Let’s dive right in!
Reasons to use a 50mm lens for landscape photography
The 50mm lens (also known as the nifty fifty) is an amazing option for beginner landscape photographers, and it’s great for more experienced shooters, too. In this section, I’ll explain why – and I hope to convince you that using 50mm lenses for landscape photography can be a stellar idea!
1. 50mm lenses help you focus on what’s important
A 50mm focal length is on the tighter side – it’s certainly no wide angle! – and we tend to think of landscapes as sprawling scenes that include many elements in one frame.
But do all landscapes require a wide-angle perspective? Can’t we capture the beauty of the area around us in a tighter package? I think so. For instance, an outdoor scene featuring rolling hills and an interesting tree is more than enough to create a thought-provoking image without resorting to a sweeping landscape composition.
Shooting the landscape at 50mm forces you to focus on the most important parts of the scene. You may be tempted to capture everything – the trees, the rocks, the foreground, the background – in a single shot, but at 50mm, it just can’t be done, and that’s a good thing.
Over time, a 50mm lens will train you to identify what matters. And you’ll start to instinctively exclude unimportant elements from your scenes.
2. 50mm primes offer outstanding image quality
The best landscape photography lenses are sharp from corner to corner. After all, landscape photography highlights even the smallest details – the texture of autumn leaves, the swirl of sand on the beach – so it pays to maximize resolution.
Fortunately, 50mm primes are incredibly sharp, especially for the cost. To my mind, they offer the best bang-for-your-buck sharpness of any lens on the market today.
Sure, they’re not perfect wide open, but stopped down to f/5.6 or so, image quality is beautiful. And narrower apertures, which is where you’ll likely be shooting most of your landscape images anyway, will still yield excellent results.
Many beginner landscape shooters use kit lenses. And while these lenses work okay and can certainly get you some beautiful images, the sharpness just isn’t on the same level as a 50mm lens.
3. 50mm primes force you to take your time
Since the 50mm is a prime lens, you’ll get an added benefit: The single focal length means you can’t just shoot from anywhere. Instead, you’ll need to move around to find the best angle and distance. This automatically forces you to think about your shot, which is always a good thing.
With a zoom, you’d likely adjust the focal length without even thinking until the scene is framed in a way that looks good. But while you might end up with a decent shot, the nifty fifty will give you the incentive to take a chance and try something different, whether it be a new angle, a different distance, or an unusual perspective.
In fact, I’d recommend turning this thought process into a careful routine, if you’re up for it. As soon as you spy an interesting subject, take out your camera with its trusty 50mm prime. Then put the viewfinder up to your eye and walk. Simply head back and forth around the scene until you’ve tested it from several directions. While you’re at it, get down low and even try to find a high vantage point.
You’ll come home with a better image (or two, or three). And you’ll become a better photographer in the process, as you’re forced to think deeply about perspective, composition, and focal length.
4. You can shoot wide-angle scenes if you really want to
In the previous sections, I emphasized the value of isolating a single subject and going tighter. And I stand by what I said, because 50mm is a good focal length for more intimate landscape shots.
However, if you come upon a scene that’s just crying out for a wide-angle field of view, all is not lost. Because you can actually create wide-angle images using a 50mm lens with a little creative panorama stitching.
You see, while 50mm isn’t a wide-angle focal length, by taking several 50mm shots and slowly rotating your camera, you can create a panorama – which can then be stitched into a wide-angle image in Photoshop.
In fact, a nifty fifty landscape panorama may look even more dramatic than a single wide-angle shot!
5. 50mm lenses are wonderfully lightweight and compact
If you’re serious about landscape photography, you’re probably already lugging around a considerable amount of gear. Camera bodies, other lenses (you don’t go out with just one lens, do you?), tripods; the list goes on.
The last thing you need is more heavy lenses when you’re out and about, right? But did you know that the Canon 50mm f/1.8 weighs just 4.6 oz (i.e., 130 g)? It’s also impressively small, so it barely takes up any space in your camera bag (and you can carry it around in a pocket if you so desire).
For many photographers, lightweight lenses bring freedom. No longer is it a chore to pick up your camera backpack and head out the door. And you can handhold a lightweight setup without getting tired, which is always a bonus.
50mm landscape photo tips
Committed to using a 50mm lens for your landscape photography but not sure how to improve your shots? In this section, I offer my best tips and techniques for captivating results!
1. Use a wide aperture
Landscape photographers often shoot almost exclusively at narrow apertures in a bid to capture the entire scene in sharp focus. But 50mm lenses offer extraordinarily wide maximum apertures, such as f/1.8 and f/1.4, and you can use these to transform your landscape shots.
Embracing the wide aperture capabilities of your 50mm lens opens up a world of possibilities. By employing a wider aperture, you can unleash the beauty of background blur. This captivating effect will help draw attention to your subject, separating it from the background and infusing a sense of depth and artistry into your shots.
To make the most of a wide-aperture approach, I recommend identifying a clear point of focus within your landscape – that is, a subject that engages the viewer. It could be a solitary tree, a crashing wave, or a delicate flower. Then, by positioning yourself relatively close to the subject and dialing in a wide aperture, you can create a dreamy, painterly background that sets your image apart from traditional landscape photography.
Note, however, that wielding the power of a wide aperture requires precision and finesse. With a shallow depth of field, the window for achieving sharp focus becomes smaller. It’s crucial to take the time to carefully focus on your chosen subject. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different focus points as needed.
2. Watch your depth of field
In the previous tip, I talked about using a wide aperture to create shallow depth-of-field effects. However, even if you’re planning to capture images that are sharp throughout, you’ll need to pay very careful attention to your depth of field.
Why? The longer the focal length, the narrower the depth of field will become. And since 50mm lenses are far longer than conventional landscape glass, the depth of field will be significantly narrower (all else being equal).
It’s still very possible to keep the entire shot sharp from front to back, but you’ll need a narrower aperture than you’d otherwise use, and you may also need to focus carefully at the hyperfocal distance. (It can help to use a hyperfocal distance calculator, which you can find in photography apps like PhotoPills.)
By the way, if you’re struggling to get everything in focus, don’t be afraid to capture several shots with slightly different focus points just to be safe. You can also use a focus-stacking technique, where you bracket your focus and then blend the resulting images together in post-processing.
3. Seek out patterns and geometry
While wide-angle lenses are fantastic for capturing vast scenes and sweeping vistas, your trusty 50mm lets you hone in on specific elements within the landscape. Using the 50mm focal length, you can zero in on interesting subjects and take a more abstract approach to your compositions.
So instead of just seeing landscapes as a collection of objects, I encourage you to shift your perspective and start thinking in terms of shapes, lines, and repetition. Look for interesting areas of symmetry, harmony, and rhythm among the elements in the landscape.
I know this might sound a bit challenging, but trust me: Pretty soon, it’ll become second nature. Also, don’t get discouraged if your first attempts don’t immediately yield mind-blowing results. Like any skill, it takes practice and a keen eye to develop. Keep at it, and you’ll witness rapid improvement.
The great thing about patterns and geometry is that they exist everywhere around us. From the intricate lines of a tree’s branches to the rhythmic waves crashing against the shore, there’s an endless supply of visual magic waiting to be captured. So the next time you’re out in nature, keep an eye out for those hidden compositions!
4. Capture intimate landscape shots
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, isn’t landscape photography all about vast, sweeping vistas?” But while those expansive scenes are undeniably captivating, there’s a whole world of beauty waiting to be captured – if you know what to do.
You see, 50mm lenses tend to offer very impressive close-up capabilities. They don’t boast true macro magnifications, but you can get close enough to record all sorts of breathtaking little details, and you can use that capability to create wonderfully intimate images.
For instance, you can capture little scenes on the forest floor that feature autumn leaves, or miniature still-life shots of flowers and grasses in a prairie. These shots often feel very meaningful and can do a great job of really communicating the essence of a landscape.
What makes the 50mm focal length particularly well-suited for intimate landscape shots is its ability to replicate what your eyes see. It captures the scene in a way that feels natural, showcasing the intricate details just as a real-life viewer would perceive them.
So how can you start exploring this captivating facet of 50mm landscape photography? It’s simple: Get up close and personal with the world around you. Start looking down at the forest floor and pausing to check out your surroundings. Seek those small elements that often go unnoticed but possess immense beauty and significance.
If you haven’t tested your 50mm lens’s close-up capabilities, now’s the perfect time! Spend some time exploring the world at maximum magnification and see what you can create!
5. Watch the background
Different lenses cause photographers to think in different ways. Wide-angle lenses, with their expansive field of view, tend to get you thinking about the entire scene and everything in it. But 50mm lenses tend to encourage you to think in terms of specific subjects: trees, mountains, lakes, grasses, etc.
This isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it can be a great way to capture unique shots. However, it does sometimes come with a significant consequence: It can force you to focus on the subject and ignore the background behind it.
However, the background is an essential part of every landscape shot, and it’s critical that you carefully compose with the background in mind. You want it to complement the foreground and midground, not distract.
As you shoot, ask yourself: Does the background complement and enhance the mood and narrative of my shot? Or does it distract from the main focus? If you notice any distractions or elements that don’t quite work, simply make some adjustments. Move around, change your perspective, or find a different vantage point to ensure a more pleasing background. Sometimes, taking a few steps to the side or getting closer to your subject can make a world of difference.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and take your time to find the perfect background. Remember, patience is key in landscape photography. By investing a little extra effort in composing with a thoughtful background, you can elevate your images from good to breathtaking.
6. Create on-the-go landscape photos
As a landscape photographer, you know that capturing those magical moments in nature often requires being in the right place at the right time. And sometimes those opportunities present themselves when you least expect them. That’s where the compact size of a 50mm lens makes such a difference – it offers you the flexibility to be ready for those fleeting moments, no matter where you are.
Specifically, I encourage you to find a lightweight camera, mount your 50mm lens on it, and carry it with you wherever you go. That way, if you’re driving to work and the world outside your windshield transforms into a breathtaking scene, you can pull over and capture it – thanks to your portable 50mm landscape setup. (If you plan on stopping frequently, it’s a good idea to leave early so you can take your photos without serious stress!)
Of course, you don’t have to be driving to find good photography opportunities. Nature is all around, even in the most urban areas! So as you go about your daily routines, keep an attentive eye for extraordinary light and captivating compositions. When you spot that perfect moment, you can simply stop, take a deep breath, and allow your 50mm lens to do its magic.
If you do carry your landscape gear around all the time, take steps to keep it safe. Store it out of sight if you plan to let it sit in your car, and make sure it doesn’t get exposed to the elements when you’re walking around (I’d recommend investing in a good waterproof camera bag).
The best 50mm lenses for landscape photography
If you’re hunting for a high-quality 50mm lens to photograph landscapes, I’m happy to say that you are spoiled for choice; pretty much every camera manufacturer offers one (and generally more) great lens in the 50mm range. These lenses tend to boast excellent optics and wide maximum apertures, and they’re also impressively cheap.
Here are a few quick recommendations, broken down by camera type and manufacturer:
If you’re a Canon DSLR photographer, then check out the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, which is perhaps the best budget lens ever made and is certainly an excellent 50mm landscape lens. More serious shooters might consider the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM for its slightly wider aperture. Canon mirrorless users should grab the RF 50mm f/1.8 STM, though professionals who plan to use the lens for non-landscape purposes may want to spring for the (extremely expensive) RF 50mm f/1.2L USM.
Nikon DSLR photographers should purchase the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, which is sharp and reasonably priced, or the AF-S 50mm f/1.4G, which costs more but boasts outstanding bokeh. Z-mount photographers can buy the Z 50mm f/1.8 S; it’s more expensive than you might expect for a 50mm lens, but the quality is excellent. Nikon does sell a Z 50mm f/1.2 S, though like its Canon counterpart, it doesn’t come cheap.
Finally, Sony shooters should check out the FE 50mm f/1.8 lens, the FE 50mm f/1.4 GM lens, and the FE 50mm f/1.2 GM lens. The f/1.8 version is the lightest of the bunch, and it’s the least expensive, too – so unless you’re planning to shoot portraits or events in addition to your landscape work, it’s probably the best choice.
50mm landscape photography: final words
All lenses and focal lengths have advantages and disadvantages, and the case can certainly be made for using wider glass. But the 50mm prime lens is a great option for landscape photography, especially if you’re a beginner; it will make you think differently about your photos, it will free you from the constraints of a heavy setup, and it will provide you with clear, sharp images.
So if you don’t own one already, go ahead and buy a Nifty Fifty. And once it’s arrived, mount it to your camera, head out, and enjoy some landscape shooting!
Now over to you:
Do you use a 50mm lens for landscape photography? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- 5 Tips for Setting the Focus in Your Landscape Photography
- 5 Quick Reasons to Use the Nifty Fifty for Landscape Photography
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES