Last weekend I was out shooting in the landscape not too far from my home. It was a beautiful morning, the night has been freezing cold so there was some frost on the grass and trees, but it was early enough in the year to still have some colors in some trees. I had seen a group of aspens earlier on one of my scouting trips, and I thought that would make for a good composition under these circumstances. So I hiked to the woodlands, the sun started to rise, it was absolutely gorgeous. With me, I had my Hasselblad 503 and the 80mm normal lens, a role of Fuji Acros and Kodak Ektar. I approached my place of Interest and I was exploring a little bit my environment to find the best composition. That usually takes a few minutes. In this case, to get what I wanted, I needed to climb down a little ditch, because when framing from higher standpoint there have been some distracting small branches coming in from the right. Once I descended a few meters, I found something completely new. I stood on a carpet of frozen stinging nettles, which I hadn’t seen from above. It was lovely how the frost enhanced the graphic illusion of the nettles. Although I initially wanted to frame the aspens, I now took a photograph of the nettles. You see where this is going…
The question whether you should use a zoom lens or multiple prime lenses is much discussed. There are some clear benefits of both and it depends a lot on the specific needs that you have. Today I want to point out why I think it might be worth shooting with primes in the specific context of landscape photography.
First of all, I don’t think that it is still a question of optical quality. There are zooms out there, which are nearly as good as all the primes in terms of sharpness, flares, and all the other well discussed parameters of lens reviews.
So it seems to be much more comfortable to carry a zoom lens with you, because you don’t have to change your lenses all the time, getting dust on your sensor and so on. Especially in landscapes, where there might be rain, snow or sand.
But I think there is one big advantage of primes, at least in the learning process: You get to know one specific focal length. I had some times where I was using only a 24mm full frame equivalent lens for weeks. You really soon adapt to that length. You start finding compositions everywhere, even in scenarios where you hadn’t dreamed you would. By doing that, you realize, that it is not only the frame that changes, but also the perspective and the relationship between elements in your composition. By using another focal length, maybe in the next half year, you enlarge your assortment.
In the above mentioned example of trying to frame the aspens, I could have been lazy, zoom in a little bit and cut the branches. That would not have been the perfect composition, but it could have worked. By being forced to move a few meters I got my aspen shot, and also, I found something new and even more interesting. I started to have a connection to the landscape and feel different aspects of it, because I was moving in it. It was a very good feeling.
So I would suggest for everyone to use a single prime for a dedicated time, because that will seriously enhance your skills with that specific focal length tremendously.