When the discussion of wide-angle comes up, I’ve often heard it said “I don’t need a wide-angle lens because I don’t shoot landscape”.
Or “Wide -angle lenses have too much distortion for my taste.”
I can relate.
Landscape photography isn’t really my genre either.
Get up 3 hours before sunrise and traipse through the woods and up some mountain-side to set-up my tripod and wait for the sun to rise?
Yeah.. thanks but, I don’t think so. Tell me all about it when you get back.
If I’m not still in bed you’ll find me on the patio at the local cafe (looking for interesting shots, or planning my afternoon while enjoying some bacon and eggs, easy over please).
Nor do I like the stretched distortion in many of the WA shots that I see.
And yet… I have 2 wide angle zooms: the 6.7-13mm for my Nikon1 system, and the 10-18mm for my Sony A6000.
I’m also currently saving-up for the 16-35mm for my A7.
Why would someone like myself have 2 or 3 wide-angle lenses? And why does the Reuter’s EXIF Data show that the 16-35mm is the most used zoom by their photojournalists??
It’s a good question, and one that I think will clear up a couple misconceptions about ‘shooting wide’.
Here’s the thing – wide angle lenses do NOT have to be used exclusively for landscape, and the distortion does NOT have to be ugly.
In fact, personally, I try not to ‘pigeon-hole’ my lenses too much.
Sure, a 28 can be good for landscape, a 35 or 50 for street, an 85 for portraits, etc.
But not always.
Instead, I try to start with the end in mind and then decide the best way to approach it.
Different lenses can often achieve the same goal in different fashions.
If I really wanted to add strong emphasis to the subject of an image I could use a fast prime (say a 50mm f1.8) I could open up the aperture to achieve some nice thin depth-of-field and beautiful creamy bokeh, isolating the subject in that way. Most people are familiar with this technique.
And that’s one way to approach it.
Alternately however, I could use a longer lens (say 150mm f2.8). I would also get good subject isolation, though the look would likely be more ‘detached’ or ‘candid’ rather than ‘intimate’. I could also perhaps more comfortably ‘fill the frame’ with the subject.
Option #3: I could shoot the subject close-in with a wide angle lens. The subject wouldn’t be isolated from a narrow depth of field or by filling the frame, but would instead be emphasized through the use of perspective.
In each case the objective is to place strong emphasis on the subject, and each method does in fact achieve this (albeit in very different manners).
You can see that there is, at least, a loose connection between these techniques. I would argue that it’s a strong connection.
But the real point is that I feel we often choose our method almost as a reflex (at least until we’ve gained more experience as a photographer).
We observe a lady pushing a French Poodle in a baby carriage; we want to emphasize the Poodle; and we instinctively open the aperture (our ‘go-to’ technique). Perhaps it would be better (if time allows) to consider other options (and outcomes)?
Six Tips For Wide Angle Shooting
1. Use Lightroom’s (or whatever post processing application you use) Lens Profiles and other features to correct distortion… though not always – sometimes the distortion can add to the image.
2. Be careful where you place your subject. Wide angle shots distort most at the edges of the frame so keep your subject near the center.
3. Look for geometry. Leading lines, converging lines, spirals, etc. dance when placed in front of a wide angle lens.
4. Don’t neglect the long end. We often tend to shoot wide angle lenses close to their widest view – but the long end (especially those that go out to 35mm) which begins to border on a ‘normal view’ has its uses too.
5. Get close. It’s that really close-in, exaggerated perspective and ‘tension’ that emphasizes your subject when using a wide-angle.
6. Beware of flare. The wide field of view from a wide-angle lens can make flare problematic. Work with it, or avoid it – but either way you need to be aware of it.