Tips for Shooting Landscapes With a Wide Angle Lens

Photo by Pacheco / CC BY-ND 2.0

When shooting landscapes, most photographers reach for the wide angle lens –and for good reason.

A wide angle lens is perfect for landscapes, allowing you to fit more in. More than that though, wide angles offer a unique perspective that’s different from telephoto lenses, rendering landscapes as vast, sweeping landscapes –and resulting in images that draw you in, and make you feel as though you could step into the scene.

If you’re wondering how a wide angle can make a difference in your landscape photography, read on for some tips for making the most of a wide angle lens.

→ Related video: Landscape Lenses: The Characteristics

What is a Wide Angle Lens?

A wide angle lens renders a wider view, more than what you can see with your eyes. Generally, anything with a focal length of about 20-24mm or less can be classified as a wide angle lens.

If you don’t have a dedicated wide angle, don’t worry! You can get started with wide angle images by using the widest focal length on your kit lens –although, in some situations, a shorter focal length can offer superior results. If you’re serious about landscape photography, it’s worth investing in a dedicated wide angle lens.

While some people use wide-angles for situations where they can’t step far enough away from the subject and want to fit everything in –this isn’t the only way to use a wide angle. Wide angles are used to capture more of a scene, but more than that, they’re a great way to create images with a tremendous amount of depth –that’s in focus.

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As a general rule, wide angles have two primary characteristics that you can use to capture some powerful landscape images.

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Wide angles tend to exaggerate perspective, increasing the sense of distance and size. This means that things in the distance will appear smaller, and farther away, while things in the foreground will look larger, and more prominent. This is the opposite of telephoto lenses that tend to compress images, drawing the background closer and causing objects in the background and foreground to appear more similar in size.

Wide angles have a wide depth of field, perfect for landscape images where you want everything in the frame –from the foreground to the background to be as sharp as possible.

→ Related reading: 11 Steps to Tack-Sharp Landscape Photos

Getting the Most From Your Wide Angle Lens

Wide angle lenses can be used to capture some amazing landscape images –but it helps to know how to work them! Here are some tips to help you to capture some great images with your wide angle lens.

Related reading: Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Canon and Reviews of the Best Wide Angle Lenses for Nikon

Foreground Interest
With wide angle photography, a large part of your image will be the foreground, so make sure it’s interesting! Often, it makes sense for the foreground to be the main focal point, since this will be the most prominent part of your photo. Other times, you’ll want to use leading lines in the foreground to draw your eye into the image and on towards the horizon. When using a wide angle lens, you’ll want to get much closer to the foreground, and make it a main feature in your composition. If you don’t see any interesting foreground elements from where you are standing, consider changing locations or get down low to include more detail.

→ Related reading: How to Use Foreground Elements in Compositions

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Tips for Shooting Landscapes With a Wide Angle Lens

Photo by Mark / CC BY-SA 2.0

Depth of Field
Wide angle lenses have a wider depth of field at any given aperture than other lenses. This allows you to capture sweeping landscapes with sharp front-to-back focus. A telephoto lens though, reduces this depth, compressing the elements in a scene so, for example, the mountain in the distance will appear closer.

Tips for Shooting Landscapes With a Wide Angle Lens

Photo by photophilde / CC BY-SA 2.0

Leading Lines
Be sure to take full advantage of leading lines when using a wide angle lens. Leading lines can be a powerful compositional tool, and are a great way to draw eye through the photo. Wide angles tend to exaggerate the sense of depth and scale in an image and lines can be a great way to draw the eye through the scene into the photo. Looking for lines to include in your landscapes can result in powerful, dynamic images.

Subject Size
With a wide angle lens, subjects that are positioned in the foreground tend to be exaggerated, appearing much bigger than objects in the background. When using a wide angle lens, you can position yourself close to subjects to emphasize this effect, and still capture plenty of background and contextual details in the frame.

The Horizon
Getting the horizon straight is important no matter what lens you’re using. A horizon that’s even slightly off can make the entire image appear off balance and crooked.

Tips for Shooting Landscapes With a Wide Angle Lens

Photo by Nicolas Raymond / CC BY 3.0

Wide Aperture
While most landscape images call for a narrow aperture to keep that the entire image clear and in-focus, in some cases you may want to use a wide aperture like f/2.8 to blur the foreground –or background, and draw attention to a specific point in the image.

Things to Be Aware Of

Wide angles are great for landscapes, but to help you get the most out of your compositions, here are a few things to be aware of.

  • Unwanted Flare
    Unwanted flare can be especially common when you are using a wide angle lens. When shooting into the sun, consider using a lens hood or changing your position slightly.
  • Distortion
    Wide angle lenses can cause a bit of distortion near the edge of the frames, but this bowing isn’t usually noticeable in your average landscape images. However, if you’re including subjects in your images, make sure you place them near the center of the image to avoid distortion –unless you’re going for creative effect.
  • Polarizers
    Take care when using polarizers with a wide angle lens. Polarizers are useful for preserving vibrant colors when photographing during bright sun. When using a wide angle though, the polarization effect will be noticeable, resulting in an unnatural looking blue patch in the middle of the sky.
  • Converging Verticals
    If your camera isn’t being held perfectly horizontal, there’s a chance of verticals converging. This means that buildings –or trees, or any other tall objects will appear as though they are tilting. This can be used creatively, but it’s an unwanted feature if you don’t want this leaning effect.

As you can see, your wide angle lens can do so much more than “fit more into a scene.” Experiment, and look for unexpected ways to use your lens for unique and beautiful results. Look up –towards the trees, or down, over a stream or canyon, or even turn your camera vertically and using it to capture a scene with plenty of sky. Find a focal point, and look for ways to use compositional elements to draw attention to the main point of interest.

Working with wide angle lenses can be tremendously rewarding –and will result in some spectacular images. Once you start, you’ll discover what makes these lenses an ideal choice for landscapes, and there’s a good chance that you’ll want to use wide angles for most of your landscape photography.

Photo license links: CC BY 3.0, CC BY-ND 2.0, CC BY-SA 2.0

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