Beach DiamondsIce floating out of Jökulsárlón glacier bay is washed up to shore by the ocean waves.
...What Would it Be?
I often get asked which lens is my favorite, the one that I couldn't do without, the one that I'd take if I only got to bring one on a trip. For me the question is mostly rhetorical, as I always carry multiple lenses, even when hiking for miles or trying to travel light in the Boundary Waters. Often, when I decide to bring a lighter bag, I end up regretting it as (of course) the lens I thought I'd never need ends up being the one I needed the most. But, let's play the game!
My Go-To Landscape Lens
Naturally, lens selection depends on subject, the light available, and many other factors. If you're going to do night photography, then a bright wide angle lens will be the choice; if you're shooting a moonrise you'll likely go for a telephoto. For this entry I'll assume that I am about to go shoot what I shoot most: landscapes. That may be coastlines, mountains, waterfalls, forests, etc. I'll also assume there is no specific subject that I could plan for in advance, which is often the case. 11-24 f/4L on Canon 5D Mark IV
Assuming those two factors, it's not actually that hard a to choose my go-to lens! If absolutely forced to just bring one, I would grab the Canon 11-24 f/4L and not look back. (It may be a monster but the game was to identify one lens, and I didn't hear any specific rules against heavy, bulky ones!) A few examples of images captured with that lens are included in this post.
Really?! But Why?!
Some people have expressed surprise at my bias for this lens but I just love it so much! In a super crowded world of photographers and beautiful images, I am always looking for ways to differentiate my work. Shooting ultra-wide opens more compositional opportunities at a zoom range in which the vast majority of people can't shoot. Most people can't even get close to 11mm. Keep in mind that this lens goes to a true 11mm on a full frame sensor, not a crop-sensor (which, when adjusted, could be in the 16-17mm range). What's more, it does that while keeping lines straight, this is not a fisheye lens.
"if you get close to subjects and find interesting foregrounds, you can do wonders exaggerating perspectives and creating dramatic leading lines"
Kvernufoss FigureSilhouette standing below Kvernufoss. While it's true that composing an ultra-wide shot can be challenging, the results can be incredibly dramatic when you get it right. The dangers of shooting ultra wide are often cited as resulting in too much boring foreground or sky, and putting your subject too far away. But if you get close to subjects and find interesting backgrounds, you can do wonders exaggerating perspectives and creating dramatic leading lines.
For added points, this lens is built like a tank. Trust me, I found out through experience, dropping my camera with the lens attached on a concrete floor. It landed glass down (without the protection of a lens cap), and the built-in hood somehow absorbed the force while gathering only a tiny hairline crack at the base of the hood only visible with close inspection. Since then, the lens has continued to work with no effect on performance or image quality!
"you can't expect to capture great images that stand out from what everyone is shooting if you aren't willing to bring some real equipment with you!"
What I Would Give Up
An ultra-wide is not be best lens for photographing people, you have to be very careful where you place them in the composition so as to not distort bodies too much. But remember, I was grabbing a lens for landscape photography, not for family pictures. The huge, beautiful glass element on Black Sand SilhouetteSilhouette at sunset on the black sands of New Zealand's north island coast. this lens also prevents the use of filters on its face. However, this lens makes it up by having a slot on the rear end where you can insert gels to act as neutral density filters, and I am happy with that. I have shot waterfalls in broad daylight with it, and slowed the shutter down to capture beautiful flowing water. The only other kind of filter I generally use is a circular polarizer, but polarizing at such wide angles could yield strange effects anyway. The real drawback to carrying only this lens would be in zoom range, as I'd be limiting myself to wide angle landscape photography.
"For added points, this lens is built like a tank."
What I Actually Do
Himatangi DriftwoodDriftwood at sunset, Himatangi Beach, New Zealand. So, beyond the rhetorical, there have been times when I've brought very limited equipment: occasions like a few days in the boundary waters, a multi-day hike on the Superior Hiking Trail, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand. I own seven lenses at this moment, and that makes for a very heavy bag! What have I done on those occasions? I've brought two lenses, the 11-24 f/4L and the 24-70 f2.8L ii, which is my most versatile lens. Sure, it's not a super-light load, but hey, you can't expect to capture great images that stand out from what everyone is shooting if you aren't willing to bring some real equipment with you!
Enjoy My Images? Help Me Spread the Word!
Since I hardly spend money or efforts on marketing, I appreciate any help I can get sharing my photos with new audiences! Selling pictures is great, but sharing my images with anyone who might appreciate them is really the most rewarding part of this. Currently I am trying to build my portfolio on Instagram, so please share my page with any Instagrammers you think might enjoy it. Below is also my Facebook photography page:
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