The wide-angle zoom lens is known as the “go-to” lens for landscape photography. It certainly has its benefits and in this article, I will explain how to compose for that distinctive dramatic look that a wide-angle lens can create.
Let me first make it clear that there is no “best lens” for landscape photography. As I have written several articles about here on Fstoppers, each focal length has its merits and can create its own distinctive look. If you want an on-location breakdown of how I create this wide-angle look with my 16-35 mm f/2.8 lens be sure to check out the above video.
The wide-angle zoom lens is often said to be good for landscape photography because it can cover a wide perspective and “take in” the entire scene. It is, however, rarely ideal to cover the entire scene as it can most often lead to confusing photos with a lot of unnecessary clutter. To avoid this you can use the following approach.
First and foremost it is often beneficial to have a focal point and this focal point usually works as your subject. Ask yourself what your photo is about. What is the main character of your photo? A tree, a sea stack, a mountain, a boat, a human, a house? You can have several subjects and for the most part, these subjects ought to support each other to avoid confusion. In the below photo the lone tree works as the focal point and subject of the photo.
Once you have figured out what you want to photograph it is time to put the entire photo together. Personally, I like to find some kind of foreground, which benefits the subject. In the upper example, I use the beautiful texture in the snow as a leading line to lead the eye towards the tree. As you can see, “visual flow” does not have to be a straight line, it can be s-curves, patterns, or points of interest you more or less unconsciously combine to lead your attention through the photo. In the below photo, I use the patterns of the foreground flower to lead you towards the church.
Sometimes you need to get low, which means having the camera all the way down just above the ground. One reason for this is to emphasize the foreground. The patterns you use to create visual interest do not have to be big, so to make them more impactful you just need to get closer to them. Another reason to get down is to minimize the impact of the mid-ground. You usually do want to have some kind of mid-ground in your photos, however, if the mid-ground does not add anything of interest or is just a lot of clutter, it is best to minimize it. By getting low and filling the frame with the immediate foreground, you squeeze and minimize the impact of the mid-ground, which is the case in the below photo.
Finding a great subject, using the surrounding environment as visual flow, and getting low all helps to simplify the photo. In this process, it is also important to weigh in all the other stuff in your scene. Are you photographing your subject from the optimal angle? Is it beneficial to find another foreground to avoid some background clutter? Can you remove unwanted objects in your scene in post-processing by clone-stamping or cropping? I photographed the below photo at 35 mm, however, due to a lot of clutter along the edges and the waterfall being a bit too chaotic I cropped it and gave it an edit focused on simplifying the photo.
If you want an on-location break-down of this approach with more examples be sure to check out the above video.