I’ve always loved photographing landscapes with a wide-angle lens. In fact, it was the only lens I had for a long time after purchasing my first camera.
There’s no denying that it’s a satisfying feeling to capture the grand vista revealing itself in front of you; first an interesting foreground, some nice leading lines in the middle, a beautiful backdrop, topped by a nice sky above. What’s not to love about that?
But wide-angle landscape photography isn’t as straightforward as one would like. There’s more to it than simply pointing your camera towards something pretty.
It’s challenging to create a visual impact when there’s so much information going on. That’s why most wide-angle images end up becoming ‘too much’ and fail to take the viewer on a visual journey.
The tips shared through this article will help avoid that. Follow them and you’ll quickly notice your wide-angle landscape images becoming a lot more interesting.
#1 Fill the Space
The most common mistake made in ultra-wide-angle landscape photography is that the frame isn’t filled. Instead, there’s a lot of empty space that doesn’t contribute to the image.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
The image above is a good example of when I’ve filled the frame. There’s not much empty or distracting space within the image; the foreground works like a frame for the mountains, the ocean separates the two, there’s a rainbow filling the upper left and there’s a bird flying in the brighter area of the sky.
In other words, the frame is filled and there’s no particular place where the eyes exit due to lack of interest.
Now let’s look at another image from the same spot but with different conditions and a slightly different composition. This is shot at 22mm (compared to 14mm for the one above).
Most of the frame is still filled in the upper half and the right area of the image but there’s a lot of empty space in the lower left. Since we’ve removed much of the foreground, there’s nothing interesting in this area; it’s a large empty space that takes attention away from the surrounding scenery.
Empty spaces like this don’t contribute to the composition. In fact, they have a negative impact. So, when possible, try to fill the spaces within a frame.
#2 Use a Low Perspective and Get Close to the Foreground
The second tip for wide-angle landscape photography is to use a low perspective. Getting down low introduces you to a whole new world of compositional opportunities. Particularly interesting is the abundance of new leading lines.
The image above is captured at hip height. While the conditions and scenery are beautiful, there’s a lot going on in the foreground and we don’t have any strong leading lines. Instead, it appears quite messy.
In the image below, I’ve used a much lower perspective and moved closer to the formations in the sand. The conditions that day were quite different but you can see how the sand now serves as an interesting and important part of the image. These lines are strong leading lines that guide us to through the image.
Another advantage of using a low perspective is that you can make even small features in the landscape stand out. Even tiny rocks or patterns can become an important part of the image.
#3 Take Advantage of Distortion
If you’ve ever photographed mountains with an ultra-wide-angle lens, you know that they become less impressive and may look small in the photo. This is because the field of view is so great that distant subjects look smaller than what they are.
Luckily, there is a neat little trick you can use to avoid this from happening. This technique can even make mountains (or distant subjects) more impressive and impactful than what they actually are.
Tilting the camera down and placing the mountain in the upper part of the frame takes advantage of the lens distortion and makes it appear more like what you’re seeing with your own eyes. Simply put, the distortion on ultra-wide-angle lenses ‘stretches’ anything which is placed at the top of the frame. This makes them appear bigger and more impactful.
Though the conditions are quite different, notice how the mountain changes in the example above. On the image to the left, the mountain has been placed further down in the frame. It’s still an important feature of the image but it doesn’t have nearly as big of an impact as it does in the second image.
Placing the mountain in the upper part of the frame has stretched it and made it a more dominant part of the photo.
Keep in mind that tilting the camera forward will include more foreground. Make sure that you find interesting lines or elements in this area that contributes to the image.
#4 Pay Attention to the Corners
One of the challenges of using an ultra-wide-angle is that you have a lot of information within the frame. It’s easy to then forget about the smaller details found along with the corners of the frame.
I tend to always look at the image preview and zoom in after capturing an image. By doing so, it’s easy to spot any distracting elements that I missed when setting up the composition. Any element that’s distracting on the camera preview is going to be ten times as distracting when viewing the image on a large monitor.
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Look for branches, tripod legs, camera bags, or other elements that aren’t contributing to the image. You can remove them by adjusting your perspective or zooming in slightly. If you can’t eliminate them without damaging the composition, you should make note of them and remove them in post-processing.
#5 Watch out for Vignetting When Using Filters
Filters can make a huge difference to your landscape photography. There’s a reason why most professionals have some. That being said, they’re also known to cause issues when used in combination with a wide-angle lens.
Vignetting is the most common problem. This is especially the case if you’re using a budget filter system, a system that’s not specifically made for your lens, or if you stack multiple screw-in filters.
Pay attention to the frame of the image and notice if your filters are resulting in a vignette. It’s easy to fix this in post-processing but make sure that the vignetting isn’t obscuring any important elements.
Recommended Reading: Recommended Filters for Landscape Photography
I highly recommend doing some initial research before purchasing your first filters. You want to get a brand and filter system that’s compatible with the lens or lenses you’ll use them with.
#6 Focus Stacking is Your Friend
Low perspectives are useful in wide-angle landscape photography. We’ve already talked about the benefit of having a strong foreground and a visually pleasing background.
The challenge with this is maintaining sharpness on both near and distant elements. Even when using the hyperfocal distance, it’s likely that one of the two is less sharp than ideal.
Focus Stacking is a popular solution. This is a technique where you capture multiple images with different focus points and blend them together in post-processing. The result is an image that’s razor-sharp from front to back.
This technique is essential to understand if you want to produce high-quality images with wide focal ranges.
There’s something magical about creating a beautiful image that features a grand vista. Either it’s the picture-perfect mountains of Northern Norway or the salt flats of Bolivia, this wide focal range can help tell a story that otherwise would be impossible.
Unfortunately, capturing these impactful images aren’t that easy. Most of the time, the photographer ends up with an image containing an overwhelming amount of information. Information that doesn’t contribute to the story.
There’s more to wide-angle landscape photography than pointing the camera towards a grand vista. It takes attention to detail, compositional skills, and a connection to the landscape to create something special.
Following the steps above will help you in the right direction. Implement them into your workflow and see your photography progress. Soon you’ll be looking back at old images being proud of how far you’ve come.
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