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10 Tips for Photographing Wide-Angle Landscapes

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.

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Anne McKinnell
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.

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