Landscape Photography and Ultrawide Lenses

Do you really need an ultrawide angle lens? The short answer is a big emphatic NO!

In the hands of an expert it is the ultimate weapon for landscape photography. The extreme wide angle shots will hit you, SMACK!, in your face. Your eyes will not be able to resist the foreground details that slowly lead you into the frame. The photo looks 3D. Those grasses seem to tickle your nose. The asphalt road never ends. You wish you took the photo.

Well keep on dreaming because an UWA lens in the wrong hands is like running around the house with a knife. It is a difficult lens to master. Beginners often use it for the wrong purpose. It is not meant to allow you to cram everything into the frame. It is meant to allow you to get very very near your target. Going very wide means running the risk of having too many distractions, a mortal sin in photography. It is quite funny when you are just starting because you have this tendency to want everything from both ends of the spectrum. You lust for that fast f1.2 lens so you can blur everything in the background and yet you also want to go really wide so you can include everything. Resist the temptation.

Your kit lens is good enough. A typical 18-55/4-5.6 is sharp enough, wide enough and long enough for just about anything. I’m not an expert but if you look at my gallery, you’d probably find one or two shots that would grab your attention. News flash: they were captured with an ordinary, cheap, zoom lens.

Here’s another tip: an ordinary zoom lens allows you to capture more unique landscape photos because almost everyone else shoots with an UWA. Use them to create something that you don’t see every day and try to avoid the cliche. Picture this: huge rocks in the foreground, milky flowing water, gorgeous clouds and a mountain in the background. Looks familiar? Of course it does because that’s what everyone else is doing. Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid the cliche but it’s magnitudes harder if you are stuck with an UWA lens. All your photos will look the same. Boring.

I’ll show you some examples of what an ordinary lens can do but an UWA can not:

The long zoom of my Sony kit lens (16-105mm) allowed me to emphasize the chaotic situation of San Francisco. Impossible with an UWA.

That cathedral is a mile away from where I was standing. Lens compression gave me this tight urban landscape shot. Another difficult shot to pull off with an ultrawide.

An almost abstract shot of the jetty. The mid zoom lens flattens the image allowing me to create this composition of lines and colors.

These boats are far apart. The mid zoom creates the illusion that they are very close to each other thus creating rhythm in the composition. An UWA would have rendered the other boats like insignificant dots and had me swimming in that cold water.

Of course, a kit zoom can go wide as well. How wide? Wide enough:

You can use the ripples to climb your way up to that lone tree.

If it’s cliche you want, I got heaps of them.

I think that should be wide enough.

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