How to Choose the Best Lens for Outdoor Adventure Photography

Select the best lens for the type of photography you're planning on doing

A lot of thought has to go into deciding which lenses to bring along on an outdoor adventure. Unlike other styles of photography where it’s not a problem to bring a whole bag stuffed full of 4 or 5 lenses to your shooting location, outdoor photographers just don’t have that luxury.

There’s simply no good way to transport tons of gear on long hikes, rock climbs, or mountain bike rides.

Though it would be great to bring along your whole kit to ensure you have the absolute best lens for every possible situation, it would just end up being heavy and bulky, and you would put all of your gear at risk of being damaged as well.


In the end, trying to bring all of your gear in an effort to get the best shots actually does the opposite, because you’re held back and unable to move and position yourself as well as you could have with just one of two lenses.


While it would be nice to bring this much gear on every adventure, it’s just not always feasible.
While it would be nice to bring this much gear on every adventure, it’s just not always feasible.

That’s why for outdoor photographers, it’s often best to plan your shots ahead of time and select just one of two lenses to take along with you. It will allow you to participate in the adventure, unrestricted by your camera gear, such that you can get right in with the action and capture the best photos.

Consider for example that you want to take photos on your next hike. Most likely you’ll be capturing landscapes, nature shots, and maybe you’d like to capture some portraits or candids of people you’re hiking with.



For this situation, you really only need a single lens! A standard zoom lens, such as an 18-55mm or 17-50mm for crop sensors, and a 24-70mm for a full frame will be able to capture great photos in all of the situations you might encounter on a hike.

Consider that at the wide end of the lens you have a great capability for landscape shots. This is perfect for when you reach the summit of the mountain and want to capture the sweeping views.


Now, as you zoom in, you start to gain the ability to get some background separation on faster lenses with wide apertures. Perfect for portraits and nature shots. And as for the candids as you go? The zooming capability allows you to frame a variety of compositions without having to spend time switching lenses around.

This means you never have to slow down your hiking party just to get a different style shot. Now, what types of shots might you miss by only having this one lens? One example might be if you were to see a moose or bear off in the distance.

Without a telephoto lens, the moose is just going to look like a little brown speck in an otherwise standard landscape shot. However, the chances of you seeing a moose on your next hike are probably slim, and if you’re really trying to get great pictures of moose, you’re better off going out with the intention of photographing moose, and bring only a telephoto.


One lens is all you need for the majority of adventures, leaving your entire setup nice and compact.
One lens is all you need for the majority of adventures, leaving your entire setup nice and compact.

As you can see from the hiking example, the best way to determine what lens to bring is to decide ahead of time what type of shots are your priority. If you know you’ll primarily be trying to take pictures of subjects in the distance, such as skiers on a mountain above you, or a mountain biker coming down the trail in the distance, leave the wide angle at home and bring a zoom lens such as 55-200mm, or a 70-300mm.

On the other hand, if you’re mainly concerned with capturing shots of the environment around you, you can’t go wrong with a standard zoom, such as the “kit” lens included with many DSLR camera bundles.

It’s a good idea, after each outing, to write down in a log how your lens selection worked out for that trip. If It went well, remind yourself what lens you used and why you liked it for that activity, so that next time you’ll be able to see right away which lens to pick.



Likewise, if you feel that you missed a lot of shots as a result of not having a certain lens, write it down as a reminder to bring it next time.


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peter-brandon is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival