How a Weird Lens Helped Me Fall Back in Love with Landscape Photography

I’ve been an amateur landscape photographer for some time now. I remember fondly my first years in the field—I loved roaming around and shooting like mad. I even started getting good at it. Year by year, though, I found myself shooting less and less.

Habits started to form. Whenever I found myself on a scene, I almost instantly knew what I would do: good foreground? shoot wide; no foreground? get the long lens and find some detail. I was in a rut and my hobby was giving me less and less satisfaction.

Turns out, most of the photographers I know reach this rut at some point or another. Most of them also find their way out. Some turn to other genres, others find new inspiration in distant lands, others … whatever, you get my point.

With me though, something else happened.

The past decade saw the emergence of some brilliant third party lens manufacturers. Their business plan goes like this: invent some wacky new lens, make it good and cheap, fill the market cracks left open by the big dogs, grow as a result. I just love them.

So one day, while browsing the Internet, I saw a headline that caught my eye. It contained three words that, up until this moment, had no place in the same sentence: “wide-angle macro.” No way, I thought, that’s an oxymoron.

Obviously no one at Venus Optics knew what an oxymoron was, and someone had dared to ask “What if … ?“

The answer:

  • 15mm prime lens – wonderful!
  • Manual focus – no big deal, I’m used to those
  • f/4 – good enough for me, don’t be greedy
  • Minimum focus distance of 4mm – What? no, seriously… WHAT??
  • Front filter thread – well, thanks for the cherry on top!

It got even better when I browsed through the sample images – this was a whole new way of looking at the landscapes for me. I just had to have it. So… I bought it.

Now what?

Well, now you start to learn. First challenge: focus stacking. Fortunately some smart people have already invented software for that. Second challenge: well there was none, I just needed to go out and shoot. It took some time but the results started coming:

And it turns out, there was one more advantage—the brilliant sun-star you get at f/11 and up:

Soon the process showed its ugly side: while shooting the focus stacks for images like the above, I had to bracket, which often meant that I needed to produce something like 80 separate shots or more for a single image. Meanwhile, the slightest wind rendered everything useless and I had to start over.

Oh, well, you can’t win them all.

As the seasons progressed, I managed to get the shots I envisioned when I first learned about this lens:

As I said, this was a whole new way of looking at the world for me; nothing was too small for the foreground of my compositions:

Not even ants:

The 4mm minimal focusing distance let me get so close to stuff I would have just passed by any other time:

Whenever there is no use for the macro, I just shoot the lens as a prime ultra wide-angle:

The front filter thread also quickly proved its worth:

Every season offered something good:

Needless to say, I am having fun again, and lots of it!

Final Words

This is not an advert for Venus Optics, or at least, not a paid one by them; this is just a story about the inspiration a new piece of gear gave me.

The glass is not perfect, it suffers from most of the usual ultra-wide lens issues, but the value I get from it outweighs them by far.

Finally, getting this glass will not solve all of your problems, it will only give you another perspective. Every age-old rule of aesthetics still applies. Here are some below-average images that prove my point:

Thanks for reading, and have fun!

About the author: Hristo Svinarov is an amateur landscape photographer based in Bulgaria. He’s been shooting for over ten years now, first on film, then digitally, and is a big believer in “keeping it local” when it comes to landscape photography. You can find more of his work on his website and blog Slow Light, or by following him on Instagram. This post was also published here.