As a landscape photographer, I love extreme wide angle lenses. I use my 16-35mm for 90% of my photos and I mostly use it at 16mm. When I give lectures about photography, I often hear people saying they have trouble with using extreme wide angle uses just because they are “so wide”. But these lenses require a different approach than your kit lens to get the most out of them.
Here are 10 tips on how to use/start using an extreme wide angle lens for landscape photography:
#1. Observe Through the Camera
When first starting out with wide angle lenses, instead of using your eyes to look at the scene, use the camera/viewfinder. Keep watching through the viewfinder/live view while holding your camera close to you and see the effect you’re creating. Foregrounds are extremely important when using wide angle lenses. Even very small things like a little rock or plant can appear much bigger in comparison to the background on your photo.
#2. Look for the Small Details
That immediately brings me to the next tip: when you see an epic backdrop, look around for small things on the ground that you can point your lens at. The trick is to not get overwhelmed by an epic mountain or waterfall as they will appear rather small in your final photo. Look at the small things around you to include them in the photo.
#3. Use Smaller Apertures
Use smaller apertures (high f-stop numbers) around f/14-f/16 to get as much into focus as possible. This is especially important when you’re close up to a foreground. try not to close your lens too much (f/18-f/22) as this will decrease image quality.
#4. Use Focus Stacking
Use a technique called ‘focus stacking’ when you can’t get everything into focus in 1 shot. With this technique, you shoot different photos with different focus points and merge them later in Photoshop (a rather simple technique that’s easy to find on Google)
#5. Experiment With Distances
Don’t underestimate the wideness of your lens. When you’re just starting out using extreme wide angles you notice you can almost fit anything in your frame, often way too much. Experience shooting the same subject at different distances. When you’re hiking to a mountain, for example, shoot at different times during your hike and see how this affects the distance between the foreground and backdrop.
#6. Get Low to the Ground
Small lines and textures on the ground appear huge on your foreground when you hold your camera very low to the ground. Try it out.
#7. Shoot at Different Heights
The height of which your camera is set makes a huge difference when using very wide angle lenses. Experience shooting the same scene at different heights. The higher you hold your camera from the ground, the more you point the camera down to include more foreground.
#8. Find Different Perspectives
Know that a super small change of position, tilt, or pan from your camera makes a huge impact on the image. When I have a good scene in mind I always spend quite some time walking around objects to get them in the perfect position of the frame.
#9. Use Distortion to Your Advantage
Extreme wide angle lenses can create quite some distortion some times. They often make the sky look distorted and the clouds pointing to the middle. You can use this to your advantage. Experiment with a half land/half sky composition (instead of the general rule of thirds) when the sky asks for it.
#10. Pay Attention to the Corners
Pay close attention to the corners in your frame, especially the bottom 2 corners. Try to get objects or lines leading into the image close to the corners. This is not a tip for only wide angle lenses. You want to indirectly lead the viewer into your image.
This is all pretty simple stuff for most of you, probably, but hopefully these tips may be useful for some people just starting out with extreme wide angle lenses.
About the author: Albert Dros is an award-winning Dutch photographer. His work has been published by some of the world’s biggest media channels, including TIME, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and National Geographic. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram.