Capture more dramatic scenic shots using an ultra-wide-angle lens and getting as close to subjects as possible to take advantage of perspective distortion
There are many approaches to landscape photography in terms of viewpoint and composition, and even the focal length you choose to shoot with. Ultra-wide-angle, standard wide-angle and even telephoto lenses are popular choices for different types of landscapes and seascapes.
One approach that’s guaranteed to produce dynamic images is to shoot with an ultra-wide-angle lens; when shooting with a full-frame camera this is a lens that’s 16mm or wider, 10mm or wider for APS-C and for Micro Four Thirds it’s 8mm or wider. Learn more about sensor sizes with our dedicated guide here.
Shooting with such wide-angle lenses forces you to get closer to foreground interest to make it appear prominent in the frame, and it’s this close proximity coupled with the ultra-wide field of view that captures scenes more dynamically. So, let’s take a look at what makes shooting close and wide an exciting technique and how to shoot these types of images yourself…
Get close & shoot wide
When shooting wide vistas, a wide-angle lens is rarely the best option. But for more intimate scenes like this one, a wide-angle is perfect for making smaller scenes appear larger than they are. This limestone pavement is quite short, and the hawthorn tree is only about 2m in height, but the use of an ultra-wide-angle lens has created the illusion that the foreground interest and the tree are larger and more dramatic than in reality.
The advantage of getting close to rocks like in this shot is that you can make them appear larger and more prominent than they are; something that you simply can’t achieve when shooting at head height. Getting close to the foreground interest when shooting seascapes is always risky because you must keep an eye on incoming waves that could either knock the camera over or completely soak it.
When shooting landscapes and seascapes with lead-in lines, shooting as wide as possible and setting the tripod to a height where you can look down onto the lines in the scene is a tried and tested method of drawing viewers into the scene. The exact height of the tripod depends entirely on the length of the lines, and you may find that some scenes require the tripod to be set to its lowest height while others require the maximum height.
Waterfalls are a firm favourite with landscape photographers because of the multiple points of interest they provide including lead-in lines, contrast, depth and the ability to control the appearance of moving water. Getting in close and shooting with a wide-angle lens helps to accentuate the depth of the scene, but this often results in water droplets hitting the front lens element or filters, so keep a lens cloth to hand.
In the first image, the tripod was set to its lowest height and the cascade at the bottom of the frame was less than 50cm away from the lens. In the second image below, the tripod was set to its highest level without the centre column extended, and the resulting image is much less dramatic when compared to the close version. Both images were shot at the same focal length to show the advantage of getting in close.
Follow these simple steps to capture landscapes and seascapes where the camera is as close as possible to the foreground interest and the lens is wide enough to take in the desired scene for more dramatic-looking results.
1 Compose the shot
Compose the shot handheld with the lens set to its widest focal length and then attach the camera to your tripod in the correct position. In this example here, the tripod was set to the lowest height possible and the camera was less than 50cm away from the foreground interest to make it appear more prominent and visually important.
2 Attach filters
When shooting the vast majority of landscape images, you’ll need to attach ND filters to control overall shutter speed, and/or ND grads to control the exposure of the sky. For this shot here, a polarising filter was used to help to remove the glare from the surface of the water, while a 3-stop ND filter was used to slow shutter speed.
Learn more about the different camera filters essential for landscape photography with out comprehensive guide here.
3 Settings and focusing
Shoot in aperture priority mode at f/16 full-frame, f/11 APS-C or f/5.6 with Micro Four Thirds. This will provide sufficient depth-of-field when you focus 1/3 of the depth into the scene behind the foreground interest you would like to be sharp. Set ISO to 100 to maximise image quality and either use a shutter remote or the camera’s self-timer to release the shutter.
4 Check the histogram
Most mirrorless, and some DSLRs, provide a live histogram that can be checked while shooting. Alternatively, review your images and press the Info/View button to show the histogram view to ensure that highlights haven’t blown – this would be shown by the histogram graph touching the right side of the box. This shot used -1.0 stop of underexposure to maintain highlight detail.
New to histograms? Take a look at our explainer guide on how to read them here.
A reminder of the basics:
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles