Every landscape photographer needs at least one wide-angle lens. Wide-angle glass offers a wonderfully expansive perspective that’s perfect for capturing grand vistas, emphasizing lines, adding breathtaking three-dimensionality, and so much more.
But creating gorgeous wide-angle landscape photography can be a challenge. Beginners often struggle to come to grips with the wider field of view, and even advanced landscape shooters often fail to access their lens’s full potential.
I’ve been capturing wide-angle landscapes for years, and in this article, I share my best tips for outstanding shots. I discuss composition, angles, and common pitfalls – so if you’re ready to make some gorgeous images, then let’s dive right in!
1. Emphasize a foreground element
Professional landscape photographers love wide-angle lenses, and they’re always using the wide field of view to emphasize foreground elements while letting the background recede.
You see, wide-angle lenses allow you to get really close to an element in the foreground, which will then loom large in the frame. (A wide-angle lens, thanks to perspective distortion, changes the relative size of the objects in the frame; objects close to the lens look huge, while objects far from the lens appear very small.)
If you include a foreground subject close to the lens, it’ll instantly captivate the viewer. Then, once the viewer has appreciated the foreground, they’ll be drawn toward the smaller background objects (e.g., a sunset, a mountain, or an ocean horizon).
Try getting low and moving as close as you can to your main subject. Don’t be afraid to get just inches from a flower, a rock, a pattern in the ice, etc. Even if you think you might be too close, you’ll often look through the viewfinder only to discover that objects don’t appear quite so close through the lens!
2. Work with leading lines
In the previous section, I emphasized the value of adding a strong foreground to add depth to your images. Now, let’s focus on a specialized way to make that foreground sing: leading lines.
What exactly are leading lines? Think of them as guides, paths that steer your viewer’s eye from one part of the frame to another. They build a sense of movement, enticing the eye to travel from the foreground elements all the way to the majestic background.
Don’t think you need to find a perfect straight line etched in the scenery. Rivers winding through valleys, pathways through fields, or even rows of trees can serve this purpose. Nature often provides these lines freely, if you know where to look.
Why does this technique work so well in wide-angle landscape photography? Because wide-angle lenses exaggerate distances and scale, these lines often appear more dynamic, more elongated. They beckon your viewers into the scene, providing a near-3D effect.
So take a moment during your next shoot to scout for these leading lines. Sometimes they’re obvious, like a long, deserted highway. At other times, they might be subtler, like cracks in a dry lake bed or bending reeds in a marsh. Once you begin integrating them, your compositions will become more engaging and visually complex.
3. Photograph a subject in its environment
As I mentioned above, the best wide-angle photography tends to include a main subject that’s large in the frame – but it’s important that you don’t become so focused on the main subject that you forget about its surroundings!
My favorite way to use a wide-angle lens is by getting ultra-close to my main subject, but then taking care to include key environmental elements in the composition, such as:
- Interesting rock formations
- Gorgeous clouds
- Stunning sunrises and sunsets
By including both a unique foreground subject and beautiful surroundings, you can create a storytelling image that offers plenty of interest and context:
4. Make sure the entire scene is in focus
Another fantastic part of using wide-angle lenses? The depth of field (that is, the sharpness throughout the scene) is often incredible.
The specifics depend on the exact lens and the aperture you choose, but you can generally get everything in the scene – from two feet away to infinity – in focus without much issue. However, you will need to take steps to make sure you’re keeping the entire scene tack-sharp.
First, make sure you use a relatively narrow aperture. A good starting point is f/8, but if your foreground object is especially close to your lens, you’ll want to increase the f-number to f/11, f/13, or even f/16.
Second, make sure you carefully focus your lens about a third of the way into the scene. This will help maximize the depth of field and prevent distant or ultra-close elements from going out of focus.
Pro tip: If you’re struggling to capture tack-sharp images, you can always use a hyperfocal distance calculator to figure out where you need to set your point of focus!
5. Include layers in your compositions
Wide-angle lenses offer more than just a broad view. They give you the freedom to play with multiple elements within your frame. Instead of settling for one or two features to capture, aim for a multi-layered composition.
What does that mean? It’s simple. Use your wide-angle lens to include something interesting in the foreground, a captivating subject in the mid-ground, and a scenic view in the background. Each layer serves a role in creating a sense of depth, offering your viewers a journey through the scene.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to balance these layers. It comes down to practice and a bit of intuition. Look for elements that harmonize, yet stand distinct from one another. A bed of colorful flowers in the foreground, a serene lake in the mid-ground, and a snow-capped mountain in the background – each component contributes to a well-rounded story.
One word of caution: be mindful of how the layers interact. The last thing you want is for one element to overpower the rest. A foreground that’s too busy or a background that’s too overwhelming can throw off the balance.
Spending a few moments arranging these layers can be a game changer. Once you master this technique, your wide-angle landscapes will take on a richer, more complete form.
6. Watch out for distractions
Since wide-angle lenses include a lot in the frame, you’ll need to be extra vigilant to make sure your landscape compositions include zero distractions. Everything in the frame should have a purpose.
So before you press the shutter button, check your shot to make sure there are no eye-catching elements in the foreground. You should also review the background, and if you do notice unwanted elements, adjust your angle or your focal length to exclude them.
In general, you’ll want to keep your compositions simple and elegant. Clearly show the main subject, make sure any supporting elements actually contribute to the shot and avoid including anything else. Simple is generally best!
7. Take the time to evaluate the entire composition
The power of a wide-angle lens is its ability to capture a whole landscape in one frame. But there’s a flip side to that coin: it’s incredibly easy for unwanted distractions to sneak in. These tiny intrusions can mess up an otherwise perfect shot, and so as I discussed in the previous section, it’s essential that you pay careful attention to every detail and do your best to simplify.
However, I really recommend you take this a step further: Before hitting that shutter button, scan the scene to evaluate everything your lens is capturing. Look at the edges of your frame. Are there any stray elements, like tree branches or random objects, poking in? Scan the mid-ground and background too, making sure every element complements, not competes with, your main subject.
This level of scrutiny may feel tedious and unnecessary. But trust me, investing that time beforehand will save you a lot more time later in editing. You’ll notice your photos emerging cleaner, and more importantly, more impactful.
Your patience will pay off, not just in the short term but in your long-term growth as a photographer. The more you get into the habit of composing carefully, the easier it’ll become.
8. Keep the camera level to prevent distortion
The wider the focal length, the easier it is to introduce visible perspective distortion into the frame (where objects appear to bend inward or outward depending on the angle of the lens).
While perspective distortion can be corrected in post-processing, it’s generally better to avoid it in the field whenever possible. Also, the process of correcting perspective distortion will crop away pixels, which can become a problem if you want to print large or if key compositional elements are positioned along the edges of the frame.
So how do you prevent distortion? You keep your camera level! In other words, the lens should be parallel to the ground rather than angled upward or downward.
Of course, you’ll run into scenarios where – for compositional purposes – you’ll want to angle your camera, and that’s okay. But do what you can to keep the angling to a minimum, and if you do have key elements along the edges of the frame, deliberately shoot wide so you can crop in later without ruining the file.
9. Angle your camera upward
I know, I know; in the last section, I told you that you should keep your camera as level as possible! But while a level camera will prevent perspective distortion, you can also use this distortion to your advantage.
If you get up close to a tall object, such as a mountain or a waterfall, then you tilt your camera upward, the edges of the object will appear to converge on a point high above, creating a highly dramatic effect. Such an image may not look strictly natural, but it’ll certainly look cool!
10. Angle your camera downward
In the previous tip, I discussed how you can emphasize tall objects by pointing your camera upward and relying on the perspective-distortion effect.
Well, you can also emphasize leading lines on the ground – such as ripples in the sand or rivulets of water running toward the ocean – by pointing your camera downward.
This technique will create a composition that really draws the viewer in, one that’ll carefully guide the viewer from the near foreground to the distant background:
11. Don’t be afraid to shoot in close quarters
While it’s virtually impossible to capture landscape photos in a cramped space using a telephoto lens, the same is not true of a wide-angle lens. With a bit of creativity, you can use a wide focal length to produce gorgeous images of small areas!
For instance, you can zoom all the way out to encapsulate a huge portion of the scene:
And you can also capture intimate shots by finding interesting patterns in the scenery, then getting in close.
Be sure to pay careful attention to objects around the edges of the frame. If you’re not careful, distractions may start to creep in, which can harm – or even ruin – your otherwise beautiful shots.
12. Beware of polarizing filters
You may already be familiar with polarizing filters, which can darken skies, reduce reflections, emphasize clouds, and saturate colors. Landscape photographers love working with polarizers, but when you’re using an ultra-wide lens, you can run into issues.
For one, depending on the angle of your camera, you may end up with a polarization effect that’s applied unevenly across the scene. This is due to the nature of polarizing filters – they work differently depending on the filter’s angle relative to the sun – and while it’s not an issue on telephoto lenses, it can come into play if you’re shooting at, say, 15mm. When this happens, it’s generally better to avoid a polarizer completely.
Second, some ultra-wide lenses feature a bulbous front element that simply cannot take a polarizer. So if you’re using an ultra-wide lens, you may need to adjust your compositions or even choose different subjects to prevent unwanted reflections from plaguing your images. If your lens won’t take a polarizer, you may want to consider avoiding waxy leaves, water, and wet rocks, all of which will create reflections and reduce image saturation.
13. Include a human to show scale
Capturing the grandeur of a landscape can be tricky. Everything is framed within your lens, but sometimes the true scale gets lost. A towering mountain can look like a mere hill; a sprawling forest might appear more like a grove of trees.
A simple solution? Include a human element. A person standing near the base of a mountain, or along a rocky shoreline, instantly provides a sense of scale. It gives your viewers a tangible point of reference, helping them grasp the enormity of the scene.
You don’t need to make the human figure the centerpiece of the shot, by the way. It’s just a tool to aid comprehension, a way to make the vastness more understandable. Just make sure you position this figure thoughtfully, ensuring it complements the landscape rather than distracting from it.
Whether it’s you in the frame or a friend you’ve dragged along, having a human reference can turn an impressive wide-angle landscape into an awe-inspiring one!
14. Manage uneven light
When photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens, you’ll frequently encounter varying amounts of light in the frame. Often, the background sky will be much brighter than your foreground objects, and this can cause significant exposure problems. Do you expose for the sky and lose detail in the foreground? Or do you expose for the foreground and blow out the sky?
My recommendation is to use a graduated neutral density filter, which will darken the top portion of your composition while leaving the foreground untouched. You might also consider using a bracketing and blending technique, where you capture several images at different exposures, then merge them together in post-processing.
In truth, both of the above approaches have their merits! Filters do tend to be expensive, but they’ll also save you time behind the computer, while bracketing can be highly effective but takes greater patience when editing. If you’re not sure which technique you like best, rent some filters, try both options, and see what you think!
15. Don’t forget about post-processing
So you’ve got your amazing shots. But the journey isn’t over. Post-processing is how you transform a good photograph into a great one.
Think of your camera as an interpreter. It does its best to relay what it sees, but sometimes the essence gets lost in translation. That’s why you need to roll up your sleeves and dive into editing.
A straightforward place to start is with basic adjustments. Tinker with contrast, brightness, and saturation to get closer to what your eyes saw. You can add vignettes to direct focus, and use dodging and burning to bring out the texture and depth in various areas.
Remember, post-processing isn’t about altering reality; it’s about making it more perceptible. The goal is to help convey the scene as vividly as you remember. The aim isn’t for over-the-top effects, but subtle improvements that amplify the mood and message of your photograph.
Wide-angle landscape photography: final words
Wide-angle lenses are often the most-used glass in a landscape photographer’s kit. Hopefully, with these tips, it’ll become the most-used glass in your kit, too!
Just remember the different approaches I’ve shared, pay careful attention to your compositions, watch out for distortion, and you’ll end up with amazing results.
Now over to you:
What do you plan to photograph with your wide-angle lens? Share your thoughts (and images!) in the comments below.
Table of contents
- 5 Tips for Setting the Focus in Your Landscape Photography
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- 10 Tips for Photographing Wide-Angle Landscapes
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES