Wide-Angle landscape photography is a lot of fun. It enables you to capture the entire beauty of the grand vista revealing itself in front of you: the interesting foreground, the great leading middle ground and the beautiful backdrop with a nice sky above – it sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
Photographing with a wide-angle lens isn’t necessarily that straightforward, though. It can be hard to create the visual impact you aim to when capturing so much information within one single frame. In fact, the images tend to quickly become too busy and the important subjects lose their significance.
That shouldn’t discourage you to explore with a wide-angle lens, though; by following a few simple steps, you’ll quickly learn how to capture impressive images of the grand landscapes.
1. Fill the Space
The most common mistake I see with ultra wide-angle landscape photography is that the frame isn’t filled. Instead, there’s a lot of open space that doesn’t contribute to the overall image.
Look at a couple examples:
The image above is a good example of when I’ve filled the frame. There’s not much empty and boring space within the image; the foreground works as 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 an 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).
While most of the frame is still filled in the upper half and the right area of the image, 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 and since it’s such a large empty space, our eyes naturally drop down to it and the viewer quickly loses interest.
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. Using a low perspective introduces you to a whole new world of compositional opportunities and you’ll find a whole lot of new leading lines.
The image above is captured at hip height. While it’s beautiful conditions and an amazing scene, there’s a lot going on in the foreground and we don’t have any strong leading lines and 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. While the conditions that day were quite different, you can see how the sand now serves as an interesting and important part of the image and provides strong leading lines that guide us to the mountain.
By using a low perspective you can make even small features in the landscape stand out and become an important part of the image. I often explore various perspectives before mounting the camera to the tripod in order to find the most interesting option.
Be aware that moving closer to the foreground affects the focus and choice of aperture. Focus Stacking is a common workaround for this type of images.
3. Take Advantage of Distortion
If you’ve ever photographed mountains with an ultra wide-angle lens, you know that even large mountains become less impressive and may even look tiny in the composition. This is the result of the mountains being further away and since our field of view is so great, they tend to look much smaller than what they really are.
Luckily, there is a genius technique you can take advantage of to avoid the distant subjects losing impact. (In fact, this technique can even make them more impressive than what they might be.)
By tilting the camera down and placing the mountain in the upper part of the image, you’ll take advantage of the lens’ distortion and make it appear more like what you’re seeing with your eyes. Simply put, the lens’ distortion on ultra wide-angle lenses “stretches” anything which is placed in the top of the frame, giving the impression that it’s bigger.
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 image and while it’s still an important feature of the image, it doesn’t have nearly as big of an impact as it does in the second image. By placing the image in the upper part of the frame it’s been distorted and is an even more dominant part.
Taking advantage of the distortion means that you’ll include more foreground, though. So make sure that you find some interesting lines that benefit the composition.
4. Pay Attention to the Corners
One of the challenges of using an ultra wide-angle is that you often have a lot of information within the frame. With a lot going on, it can be easy to forget the smaller details such as paying attention to the corners of the frame.
After capturing an image, I tend to always look at the image preview and zoom in. By doing so, it’s easier to notice if there are any minor errors that will be more visible once you view the image on a larger monitor.
Look for branches, tripod legs, camera bags or other elements that aren’t a part of the image. Remove them by adjusting your perspective or zooming in slightly; if you can’t adjust the composition be aware of these elements and remove them in post-processing.
5. Watch out for Vignetting When Using Filters
Using filters for landscape photography can make a huge difference and opens several creative doors for you. However, they’re also known to cause some unwanted issues when used in combination with wide-angle lenses.
The most common is vignetting. This is especially a problem if you’re using a budget filter system, a system which is 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 is easy to fix this in post-processing but make sure that the vignetting isn’t obscuring any important elements of the image – it’s easier to fix it in Photoshop if they only cover the sky or other surfaces with less texture and details.
If you’re considering purchasing filters, I highly recommend doing some initial research on how specific brands and systems work with the lens or lenses you’ll use it with.
6. Focus Stacking is Your Friend
A common approach to wide-angle landscape photography is to have a low perspective, a foreground element close to the lens and a background which is equally important. Maintaining a sharp focus on both an object close and far away from the lens can be challenging, even when using a hyperfocal distance.
Focus Stacking for a greater depth of field is a popular workaround for this problem. By capturing multiple images that focus on different places throughout the frame and blending them together in post-processing, you’ll get an image which is razor-sharp from front to back.