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How to shoot amazing winter landscapes - Part 3: lenses

Replace your wide-angle lens with a telephoto and challenge yourself to see subjects anew (Image credit: Future)

There’s much more to classic winter scenes than just wide sweeping vistas of mountains and fields. The season also provides plentiful opportunities for detail shots, as well as intimate landscapes.

Longer focal lengths offer the opportunity to hone in on elements such as frozen bubbles, leaves in frost, or low winter light hitting a single tree. They also compress the perspective of a scene, so that the viewer is more drawn to the subject.

When you switch up your lens choice, play around with the aperture, too. Using smaller f/stops than you might usually for standard landscapes can yield dreamy out-of-focus backgrounds and bokeh. 

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Best cameras for landscapes
Best lenses for landscapes

Use a telephoto lens for frosty elements

Lens: Canon 85mm f/1.2L II USM (Image credit: Gettyimages)

Shooting with a long focal length doesn’t have to mean carrying a hefty lens around with you. It’s possible to capture intimate images with lengths of around 60mm and longer, if you’re fairly close to your subject. 

This backlit detail shot was captured using the Canon 85mm f/1.2, a short and compact optic that’s perfect for working with the low light of winter (thanks to
its wide maximum aperture).

With a telephoto lens, look for patterns and details, such as snowflakes and frosty leaves. Instead of trying to keep your entire scene pin-sharp by setting a narrow aperture use a wide aperture and throw the background out of focus. 

Here, the eye is drawn to the magical backlit branches in the foreground, while an f/1.6 aperture renders the trees beyond into an attractive blur.

Don't neglect your kit lens

Lens: Canon EF-S 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 (Image credit: Gettyimages)

A standard kit lens like the Canon EF-S 18-55mm (equivalent to 28.8-88mm on a full-frame camera) will give you a versatile reach between a wide angle and a mid-telephoto zoom. Be mindful of what you include and leave out of your frame,
though, and try to employ the full variety of focal lengths. 

There’s often so much white in a snow scene that, rather than relying on a wide angle, the composition becomes more effective if you zoom in to avoid large areas of featureless white space. Above, a focal length of 18mm has been used, so that the bridge, the winding river and the frosty foreground can all be included.

Go for an ultra-wide angle

Lens: Nikkor 12-24mm f/4 (Image credit: Gettyimages)

An ultra-wide-angle zoom lens is the perfect tool for capturing a very expansive landscape – think sweeping vistas, big skies, snowy mountains in the distance. As wide-angle focal lengths enable you to include more of the landscape than the human eye would naturally see, they help to convey the wonder of a grand scene. 

In terms of shooting, opt for a minimum focal length of around 16mm; try to get low down as you compose; and use leading lines (such as the icy water’s edge here) to give the viewer’s eye a little direction into the frame.

Read more: 

Landscape photography tips
Best camera for landscapes
Best lenses for landscapes

Lauren Scott

Lauren is the editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist, she has served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera magazine. When taking photos in her spare time, Lauren can usually be found romping around the countryside or visiting the coast.