Raise your standard
How to shoot landscapes and wildlife with a kit zoom
Standard 18-55mm DX kit zooms are no-frills lenses that deliver the equivalent view to a focal length range of 27-80mm on a full-frame FX camera (when you take the 1.5x DX crop factor into account). Moderately wide to moderately long, it brings a natural look to pictures that, unlike ultra-wide and super-telephoto lenses, doesn’t draw attention to the lens that was used to take them.
That being said, it’s easy to feel disheartened when faced with a sweeping landscape or a stunning interior and the lens doesn’t zoom wide enough to take it all in. It’s also easy to feel the lens doesn’t provide enough reach to make sports, wildlife and other distant subjects look anything other than pokey in the frame.
The answer is to see this focal length restriction as an opportunity to come up with creative pictures, rather than as a brick wall. For example, you might not have a 300mm or 400mm lens, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shoot sports. Instead of a frame-filling shot of a footballer, why not zoom to the lens’s shortest focal length and show them small in the frame as part of a wider stadium shot?
If you can’t get that close enough to animals and birds for fear of spooking them, you could try a wider environmental shot instead; if you have a Snap Bridge-equipped camera such as the D 5600( reviewed on page 104) that allows you to control the camera from a smartphone, then that opens up the possibility of remote photography too.
Failing that, there’s always the option of cropping the image in software. The 24MP imaging sensor in the D3400 captures a huge amount of data, so unless you’re printing above A3 size, you’ll be able to crop dramatically and still get detailed results.
When you’re shooting landscapes, again there are plenty of ways that you can think outside the box to make the most of a standard lens. For a start, although you can’t squeeze a dramatic view into a single frame in quite the same way that you can with an ultra-wide 10mm lens, why not do the opposite: use the narrow view at the longest focal length to isolate interesting patterns and shapes in a scene? The compression effect created by the long end of a zoom will make forests look more densely packed with trees, and distant hills look more dominant.
If one frame isn’t big enough to capture an extreme view, why not shoot several and stitch them together? You don’t have to stick with a horizontal panorama – try a vertical one to emphasise the height of trees and mountains. Or combine both horizontal and vertical techniques for a shot that has scale without being letterbox shaped?
To create this type of shot requires consistency: use manual exposure, focus and white balance to ensure consistency between frames. Use a tripod to maintain consistent sharpness, too, and allow around a third of a frame overlap between each frame. Use Lightroom or Photoshop (File>Automate>PhotoMerge) to merge and stitch images seamlessly.
If you can’t zoom the lens in far enough to capture frame-filling shots of wildlife, you’ll need to encourage the wildlife closer to the lens. Alternatively, you can try shooting a wider ‘environmental’ portrait instead