I've fallen back in love with my Ultra Wide Angle Lens

April 03, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

The first lens on top of my wish list when I was starting out as a landscape photographer was an ultra wide angle lens. As soon as I'd saved up my pennies I bought one and I absolutely loved it. It stayed on my camera 90% of the time and literally every shot I took was ultra wide to cram in as much of the vista as possible. Looking back now, I really wasn't utilising the lens to its maximum. I was just using it for the sake of using it, when other options would have been better to get the image I wanted. My preference then changed as my experience grew and I started using a telephoto lens and the more versatile 24-70mm. So this meant the poor old wide angle got ditched and I rarely used it. However over the last few years I've really fallen back in love with the little fella. Wide angle lenses are such great fun, super easy to use and you can create some wonderful images if you use them correctly. Of course they have their limitations and some times I would probably use another lens choice, but in the right situations they can be really really effective and creatively satisfying. 

A demonstration of the importance of strong foreground, mid ground and background in wide angle photography: Burnmoor Tarn LightBurnmoor Tarn LightLooking out from the side of Illgill Head to Burnmoor Tarn and Scafell beyond.

What is a Ultra wide angle lens:

So to quote Wikipedia 'An ultra wide-angle lens is a lens whose focal length is shorter than that of an average wide-angle lens, providing an even wider view'. In 35mm terms this is anything below 24mm. To put it into context your combined eye's field of view is roughly around 35mm. So a wide angle lens has a wider view than that of the human eye..pretty wide hey? So we've established what it is but what are the pros and cons for this type of lens for landscapes? 

The Pro's:

  • The wider view is perfect for landscape photography
  • They can create interesting and unique perspectives 
  • Easy to get good depth of field and front to back sharpness

The Con's:

  • Can have issues with distortion 
  • Good quality options are expensive 
  • Not the most versatile if you only carry around one lens

Getting close to our foreground helps to lead the viewer into the image:

Esk Pike SunriseEsk Pike SunriseBeautiful golden light on the summit of Esk Pike, looking out towards Allen Crag, Glaramara, Skiddaw and Blencathra.

Why I Love Using My Wide Angle Lens:

So why do I enjoy using them? For me and the genre of photography I practise, wide angle lenses are perfect for capturing those lovely vistas of the Lake District. I enjoy utilising interesting foreground in my images to lead the viewer into the scene and the wide angle view is perfect for this. The wide field of view kind of stretches the scene, so it makes subjects in your foreground appear bigger than they are, thus placing greater emphasis on them and making them a real feature. I don't tend to like taking multiple images, if I can get a shot in a single frame I will. Wide angle lenses have a great depth of field and it makes it really easy to get front to back sharpness with out the need to take multiple shots and blend together in post processing. Creatively they are also really fun. I love looking at different perspectives to keep my photography fresh and inspiring. Whether i'm shooting in landscape or portrait orientation with the wide angle lens, I can always create something interesting.   

Using portrait orientation to create interesting and unique perspectives:

Clearing Clouds - Goats HawesClearing Clouds - Goats HawesThe low cloud clears over Goats Water and Dow Crag. An image taken from Goats Hawes, which sits inbetween Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man.

My Top Tips for Using Wide Angle Lenses:   

Shocker....Foreground interest needs to be interesting:

Wide angle photography is all about your foreground for me. Foreground is the first part of the image the viewer will see, so we need to make the foreground interesting. Not only does it need to be interesting but it has to lead the viewer into the scene while complementing the rest of the image. I look for leading lines, triangles, s curves or try and mirror the background with my foreground. These are all tricks I like to use to create interest. Your foreground has to have context and not just plonking a great big rock in the scene for the sake of it, it needs to complement the image in question.

Get up Close and Personal: 

The beauty of the wide angle lens is you can get really close up to your foreground because the lens will make it look bigger than it is, so you can really emphasis the lower part of the image. This really opens up our options, for example, even the smallest of rocks can be used as they will appear bigger than they are. The focusing distance of wide angle lenses is small, so we can get really close up and be as creative as we like. You can also fill the whole frame by getting closer into the scene, so you don't have any wasted space in your image. 

Portrait Landscapes:

Why not try shooting in portrait, just because its a landscape shot doesn't mean it has to be in landscape orientation. With the huge field of view we can still accommodate the background, even if we are point the camera straight down at the foreground. Stretching the scene can make some really impactful and creatively powerful images. I also find because of the stretched view it can often make our background mountains seem a little more elongated due to the stretching and thus giving them more impact. Shooting landscapes in portrait can give familiar scenes a bit of a different twist and make them more unique and interesting. 

Shooting in portrait for a new twist on a familiar view:

Wast blogWast blog

Don't take out the Middle Man and shoot in Thirds:

While foreground is the basis for any good wide angle shot, we need to also consider your mid ground and background. These are essential compositional considerations that can further enhance and create the all important depth into our images. There is no point having a killer foreground interest that doesn't lead to anything. Adding a mid and background to run along side your foreground further helps the eye flow through the image to its intended destination. I usually shoot in thirds, with foreground occupying the lower third, my mid ground the middle third and mountains and sky the top third. Using this as our template is a good basis to start composing our images, as we really want that lower two thirds of the image to be interesting and start us off on the journey through the image.

Depth of field and Focus:

I find wide angle lenses super easy to use as the large depth of field makes it really easy for focusing and getting front to back sharpness in your images. I could go on about focusing and thats a complete subject in itself. However I'm not because in reality I like to keep it simple. In its most basic form I tend to shoot at a small aperture f11 - f16 and focus around the lower third of the image if shooting at around 20mm or wider. This tends to give me the desired depth of field. If I feel I need a little extra sharpness, I may take one image on the third and one at the distance and blend together, however I rarely need to do this. You can always take two as an insurance policy just incase. However I think we place too much emphasis on clinically sharp images, I've never had anyone look at a print of mine and say the background isn't sharp enough.

Filling the frame to maximise impact:

Dale5Dale5
So if you can lay your hands on a wide angle lens I really would recommend it. Yes it does take a different mindset and approach to landscapes but once you have mastered these, it really does open your eyes to endless creative options. For me photography is about creativity and fun, the wide angle lens epitomises this in abundance. In fact, I rarely use my 24-70mm now on the fells. It is now my go to lens and i've created some wonderful images over the last few years. Never again will it be banished from my kit bag, indeed, it now holds pride of place as the top weapon in my armoury. If you wanting to get into landscape photography, for me, this lens is a must and honestly its worth the outlay of cash in the long run. Go wide or go home. 

Tim


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