6 Mistakes to avoid with your Wide Angle Lens

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Landscape photographers love to shoot with their wide angle lens… and why not? The grand vistas that you see before you can be captured with a wide angle lens making the viewers feel that they are on the scene with you. However, wide angle photography is not easy. The wide field of view that makes the lenses so attractive can lead to mistakes which can completely ruin your photos.

Here are some of the mistakes to avoid when shooting with your wide angle lens…

Exposure Problems

With your wide angle lens, the wide field of view that is useful in capturing the grand vistas can also create wide variations in your photo. Variation of light can easily exceed the dynamic range of the camera and create problems with over or under exposure or both as seen in the following image.

  • Over and under exposure problems with Wide Angle Lens

    Focal length 24mm – Over and under exposure problems, Redwood Forest National Park, California (CA), USA

  • Photo from Wide Angle Lens after Post Processing

    Focal length 24mm – Manually-blended image, Redwood Forest National Park, California (CA), USA

One of the best ways to avoid over or under exposure is to preview your camera’s histogram after taking the photo and make necessary adjustments. If your camera settings are unable to accomplish this, you must either bracket the photo or use a GND filter to balance out the light. In the above shot from Redwood forest, I used bracketing to capture three different exposures and then blended them together in post-processing to create the image.

Not Getting Close to Your Subject

A wide angle lens allows you to get close to your subject, but it also creates a distortion that makes the far-away objects look small. If you are trying to capture that mountain range in the distance using a wide angle lens, you may find that it takes up a tiny portion of your frame compared to what you can see with your own eyes. Similarly, you lose details in the foreground if your subject is too far away from your lens as seen in the following image from Death Valley.

  • Badwater, Death Valley, California (CA), USA

    Focal length: 17mm, Closest object is more than 12 feet from the camera, Badwater, Death Valley, California (CA), USA

  • Focal length: 17mm, Closest object is more than three feet from the camera,, Badwater, Death Valley, California (CA), USA

You can avoid this problem by getting close to your subject or by zooming in. I used my wide angle lens and got close to the foreground to take the shot above.

Focusing Challenges

One of the biggest advantages of a wide angle lens is the fact that you can get incredibly close to your subject such as with the shot above of Death Valley. However, you must rely on hyperfocal distance principles to ensure that your photo is sharp throughout the frame. If these principles are not sufficient to provide acceptable sharpness, then you must rely on focus stacking techniques to create acceptably sharp images. This is exactly what I did when taking the following photo in Paria Canyon. I took two shots using different focusing points and then blended them together in Photoshop to create this image.

Focus Stacking with Wide Angle Lens

Paria River, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah (UT), USA

In the image above, you can see approximately where I focused to capture the two images that were later blended together. I highly recommend that you check your sharpness on the back of your camera after taking the photo.

Vertical Perspective Distortions

Wide angle lens work great when you keep them vertically-leveled. However if you point your wide angle lens either up or down, you get the vertical lines in your image converging at the top or bottom respectively. This can sometimes make the elements in your photo look odd as seen from the shot that I took of this old church building in Nicaragua.

Vertical Distortion from a Wide Angle Lens

Iglesia Capulin, Nicaragua

This does not mean that you can only shoot straight-on with a wide angle lens. You can either correct this vertical distortion in software or you can use this vertical distortion creatively to come up with some stunning photos as seen in the following images.

  • Wide Angle Lens Photo from Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Focal length: 23mm, Wide angle lens pointing down on the waterfall, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

  • Wide Angle Lens Photo of Northern Lights, Iceland

    Focal length: 23mm, Wide angle lens pointing up towards the sky, Iceland

Not Using the Correct Filters

Filters and wide angles lenses don’t always play well together. One of the most frequently encountered problems is that of vignetting. In extreme cases you can see the edges of the filter in your frame. The easiest way to get rid of this problem is to either zoom in or to use larger filters (which are typically more expensive). Here is a shot from Hawaii’s where you can see the edges of the filter in the frame.

  • Problems with Filter Stacking with Wide Angle Lens

    Image 1: Filters in the Fame

  • Problems with using a circular polarizer with a Wide Angle Lens

    Image 2: Death Valley Uneven polarization

Another frequently encountered problem with wide angle lens is uneven polarization. This is most noticeable in the blue skies on a cloudless day. You can avoid this problem by not using a circular polarizer for blue skies or by taking multiple exposures and blending them together.

Not Knowing the Limitation of the Lens

Make sure you know your lens’ capabilities and limitations. Most wide angle lenses are sharpest in the center and this sharpness decreases when you move toward the corner. So, you may not be able to improve sharpness in the corners by selecting a smaller aperture. Here is an example of the photo I took in Fiji in which you can see the softness of the lens at the corners.

  • Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

  • 200% Crop from Bottom Corner: Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

  • 200% Crop from Bottom Center: Sunset Beach, Mana Island, Fiji

Similarly, it is good to know the sweet spot of the lens… the aperture at which the lens performs best. Keeping your shot close to this aperture when possible maximizes the sharpness of your images. It is also important to know at what aperture the lens performance is unacceptable; avoid shooting past this aperture (if possible). I know that my 16-35 mm lens performance degrades quite rapidly when shooting past F16; I rarely shoot past this aperture.

This is exactly the kind of information available in our Wide Angle Lenses Course. This course demonstrates how to make the most out of your wide angle lens to capture stunning photos that makes you feel like you are looking out of a window.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
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