10 Tips for Photographing Wide-Angle Landscapes

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A wide-angle lens is considered an essential piece of gear for any landscape photographer because it gives you a perspective that you cannot achieve with any other lens. You’ll not only be able to photograph grand vistas, but you’ll see lines in a different way, and emphasize subjects by getting super close.

So if you haven’t tried one yet, borrow or rent a wide angle lens and get ready to make images with a different flavour using these tips.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

21mm, ISO 100, f/18, 1/15 second

What is a wide-angle lens?

Camera lenses are defined by comparison to the field of view that the eye naturally sees – which is 50mm on a full frame camera or 35mm on a crop sensor camera. This is known as a normal focal length. Any wider than that is a considered wide-angle.

My favourite wide-angle lens is in the 10-20mm range on my crop sensor camera, or 16-35mm on a full frame camera.

When to use a wide-angle lens

Many people think the purpose of a wide-angle lens is to photograph grand vistas and get a lot in the frame. While that is one purpose for a wide-angle lens, its real power is in using its perspective to emphasize objects that are very close to you and de-emphasizing objects that are farther away.

1. Emphasize a foreground element

Wide-angle lenses allow you to get really close to something in the foreground, which will emphasize it and make it look larger and more important than the background elements. A wide lens has a way of changing the relative size of the objects in the frame, so that things that are closer to the lens appear larger, and things in the background appear smaller proportionally.

Black Eyed Susan by Anne McKinnell

20mm, ISO 200. f/5.6, 1/160 second

Try using a low angle and getting very close to your main subject. By close, I mean inches away. You’ll be surprised when you look through the viewfinder and discover that objects don’t appear quite so close through the lens.

2. Photograph your subject and its environment

My favourite way to use the lens is to get very close to my main subject so it is large in the frame, as mentioned above, but also include other elements in its environment in the frame. This is a great way to create a story-telling image that provides context for the main subject.

Balancing Rocks at Little Finland, Nevada by Anne McKinnell

16mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1.3 seconds

3. Get everything in focus

Another great power of a wide-angle lens is its ability to have incredible depth of field. You can get everything from two feet away to infinity in focus. Of course, this depends on the exact lens and the aperture you choose, but all wide-angle lenses have a greater ability to get more in focus than a telephoto lens (which is excellent at shallow depth of field by blurring the background). You’d be hard pressed to blur the background with a wide-angle lens.

Whitney Pockets, Nevada by Anne McKinnell

19mm, ISO 100, f/20, 1/20 second

You can use a hyperfocal distance calculator to figure out exactly what will be in focus for your lens at the aperture you choose. But generally speaking, if you focus on something close to you and use a small aperture like f/18, everything from front to back will be in focus.

4. Watch out for distractions

Since wide-angle lenses include a lot in the frame, you’ll need to be extra vigilant to make sure there are no distractions. Everything that is in the frame should have a purpose.

Check your composition to make sure there is nothing in the foreground that you didn’t notice, since objects just inches away from you will be in the frame. As well, check the background to make sure there you haven’t included something unintentional.

Ideally, your composition should clearly show what the main subject is, what the supporting elements are using an interesting graphic design, and not include anything else. Simplify the composition as much as possible.

Kirkjufellsfoss, Iceland by Anne McKinnell

11mm, ISO 100, f/20, 1/6 second

Because the frame contains such a wide field of view, it will have a lot in it, so it is especially important that the main subject is obvious.

5. Keep the camera level

Wide-angle lenses are notorious for displaying distortion around the edges. Anything with straight lines at the edges of the frame will appear to lean inwards. To avoid or minimize distortion, keep the camera level with the ground and don’t angle it up or down.

6. Angle your camera upwards

On the other hand, you can use this distortion to your advantage! Just make sure it is intentional and you are using it to emphasize something. For example, by angling the camera upwards you can emphasize the sky, and any clouds in it will appear to point towards the center of the frame.

Valley of the Gods, Utah by Anne McKinnell

15mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/60 second

7. Angle your camera downwards

Similarly, if you angle your camera downwards you can emphasize leading lines on the ground and create a perspective that really draws the viewer in.

Fire Canyon Arch in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada by Anne McKinnell

10mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/20 second

8. Make images in close quarters

Whenever you are in an enclosed space, making images with impact can become difficult, since you cannot get far enough away from your subject. If you are in a tight situation, a wide-angle lens is a necessity!

Antelope Canyon, Arizona by Anne McKinnell

21mm, ISO 100, f/11, 5.0 seconds

9. Beware of polarizing filters

You may already know that polarizing filters can darken skies, emphasize clouds, and saturate colours when you are photographing in a 90 degree angle to the sun. If you are photographing with the sun directly in front of you or behind you, the filter does not have this affect.

With a wide-angle lens, you may find that part of the scene in the frame is at a 90 degree angle and is affected by the polarizing filter, and the other side is not. When this happens, it is better not to use the polarizing filter at all (it will give you an uneven sky which is darker on one side).

10. Manage uneven light

When photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens you’ll frequently encounter varying amounts of light in the frame. Often the sky in the background is much brighter than your foreground. When this happens, you can use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the top portion of your image and even out the exposure.

Wildflowers in Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas by Anne McKinnell

10mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/100 second

A wide-angle lens is often the favourite lens in the kit for landscape photographers and with these tips it may become your favourite lens too.

What do you like to shoot with your wide lens? Please share your tips and images below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Anne McKinnell

is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems.

You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • I would like to add one for me very important approach for taking landscapes:

    Since more than 10 years most of my landscape images are stitched images. Most of the time I use primes and go out with only a moderate wide angle lens (25-35mm FF) or one short tele lens like 75mm and when I see images for a wider angle I start shooting sometimes multi row panorama images. With this technic I can get any angle of view as I like (and of course any resolution for the final print). And I don’t depend of the corner performance of any wide angle lens.

    Of course this works only for more or less static scenes (wind, water?). With close foreground you will need a tripod head with nodal point correct positioning of the lens.

    And I would like to add an very special lens for the very close foreground up to 1:1 macro, the incredible ultra wide Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide-Angled 1:1 Macro
    You may find my images with this lens here in my flickr album:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/albums/72157657776606980

    regards
    dierk

  • Darryl Lora

    Thank you Anne for a really interesting article. I have been using a 10 ~ 20mm on my 7D for landscapes for the last 3 years……and I still found your article interesting. Of late I have been going out with a 24 ~105 L lens for convenience but your article made me decide the 10 ~ 20 needs to come out with me, and to hell with the extra weight in my bag.

  • Didik Suprianto

    Foreground interest is a great thing in landscape, thanks for great article

  • Tim Lowe

    As a 4×5 photographer, I’ve always favored a normal lens for landscapes. But you make a compelling case. I just bought a 105mm on eBay. 😉

  • cl5001

    Good article – i bought a W-A lens for quite boring reasons (work-related building shots) but soon found it was an invaluable lens for a variety of settings

  • JP

    Excellent. Thank You Anne!

  • Gervasio Ruiz

    For me, it is an essential lens on my computer. It really is hard to put other lens when I’m doing landscape photography.
    It certainly helps me to photograph objects in the foreground (flowers, etc ..) and with a background in focus.

  • Kojo Adjei Baffour

    I’ve had a wide angled lens for a couple of months now and decided to put it to use yesterday at the park and i was amazed. These are a few of the shots from my experiment. Thanks for the tips.

  • Pavan Yaragudi

    With my Canon 18-55 mm kit lens reversed I am getting some amazing macro… and get almost same results at very least expenses as of spefic macro lens.but focusing is tricky using this technique.. though very good to enjoy photography.

  • Cinnara

    You taught me many more tricks, thank you!
    This was taken on Mount Salève,, near Geneva, CH

    ƒ/8.0 , 13.0 mm, 1/750, 100 ISO

  • Thomas Ashcraft

    I shoot a 16-35 F4 for all my landscape shots. I especially like that you can get sky and foreground in the same shot without doing anything at all but focus.

  • Ravindra Kathale

    even at the cost of sounding stupid, what is a 4×5 photographer?

  • Tim Lowe

    🙂 Of course not. 4×5 is a film format. 4″ wide and 5″ tall (or the other way around if you shoot landscape). So to get the 35mm format equivalent in focal length you divide by 3. A 150mm lens on a 4×5 is a “normal” or 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. A 105mm is close to a 35mm lens on a full frame DSLR.

  • Tim Lowe
  • Tim D

    Anne mentions using a split ND filter for bright skies to keep from blowing out the skies. I used to do this back in the film days when shooting slide film (like Velvia – very high contrast film). Today I shoot RAW and I can pull back the skies in Lightroom and get good results. I wonder, though, if there is an advantage to shooting with an ND grad instead of correcting in post?

  • pete guaron

    Anne, I know the purists will throw things at me for this – but I use a w/angle instead of a perspective control lens, for landscapes – it’s easier to set up, more convenient (because it spares me carrying another lens – always a prob. for landscape work) and can achieve almost the same outcome. OK not quite – but who’s to say what’s the “perfect” spot to put down the ‘pod anyway?

    Oh – and also because I’ve never been able to track a decent comparison between the optical qualities of the PC lenses Nikon put out and the w/angle I have for the cam. Which has put a stop to any plans I might have had to buy one – yes I understand the point, but no I’m not buying one without any reassurance as to the qualities of the optics, to take over from a high quality w/angle which achieves pretty much all I need anyway.

  • Ulises Dominguez
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