A wide angle lens can be a powerful tool for exaggerating depth and relative size in a photo. However, it’s also one of the most difficult types of lenses to learn how to use. This page dispels some easy techniques for taking full advantage of the unique characteristics of a wide angle lens.
Fullframes and 35mm Film
- Ultra-Ultra Wide 12-16mm
- Ultra Wide 17-21mm
- Wide 24-35mm
- Normal 40-58mm
How To Use (U)WA Lens (10)
01. Get Close & Include something(s) of interest in the foreground otherwise you will get vast expanses of nothing. In landscape this can mean going low to include foreground flowers for example or getting really close to rocks so that you can see the rock grain.
02. Look for strong compositional lines as this will add drama to your shots. This happens naturally with wide lenses anyway so you are just working with the natural perspective of the lens.
03. Look for interesting skies / back gound as ultra-wides capture wide expanses of sky and emphasis the lines in the cloud formations. You get a lot more things in the background, so you might want to be careful with what you frame in the backgrounds. Spend a bit of time to look at what’s in the background, does it mess with the overall aesthetic of your image? Is it too busy or too sparse? It’s a lot harder to decide what background to include because an ultra wide will see a lot more of it. Sometimes it isn’t about picking what background to put in the frame but rather what looks fine. The amazing effect that you get from an ultra wide can also be the most prohibitive to getting good photos.
04. Try to keep the camera as level as possible when photographing buildings.
05. A polarising filter in clear weather can add more colour, and Neutral Density graduation filters can add a lift in cloudy weather.
06. Move in close: The closer you are to your subject, the more dramatic your images will be. Yes, I mean right up close and personal.
07. Look out for your feet and other extraneous bits that might intrude, like legs of tripods, due to the much wider FOV
08. Use a tripod for landscape shots
09. Exposure Problems
- Look for scenes with low dynamic range. “Magic hour light” and other “interesting weather light” is best, of course, but wide-angle works surprisingly well for “boring light” — for example overcast, noonday or front-lit sunlight: the inherent richness of the scene can greatly make up for the lack of interest in the lighting. Wide-angle is great for winter photography: snow cancels out (sometimes reverses) the usual brightness difference between sky and ground.
- Expose for maximal dynamic range, then correct in post-processing. Use as low ISO as you can, if shooting in JPG, use the low-contrast setting, shoot in RAW if you’re up to it, and expose just below the point where you lose the highlights. Then restore tonal balance in post-processing. If you shot at ISO100 or ISO200, there are at least two or three stops of room to pull up the tones without boosting noise badly enough for it to be distracting in even quite large prints or introducing other major gremlins. If you shot in RAW, you’ll have a few aces up your sleeve in post-processing: more about that below.
- Bracket. Shoot two (or sometimes more) frames at different exposure values off a tripod and merge them in post-processing. Below, I’ll describe a ridiculously simple way to do this that usually looks much more natural than complicated and labor-intensive masking techniques (like the one that I describe in my Layers and Masks post-processing lesson).
010. Focusing Problems
- Auto-focus for close-up situationals, zone focus for the rest.
- Stop down as far as you can. Use a tripod whenever possible: this means you’ll be able to stop down to f/11 or below. Often it’s better to go all the way to f/22, despite the slight diffraction-caused softening this causes. The wider the lens, the less you’ll need to stop down — but even on the widest rectilinear currently available, f/16 isn’t overkill. If you don’t have a tripod, use a monopod. If you don’t have that, bump up the ISO up to 800 (exposure constraints permitting). The extra noise will matter far less than the better overall sharpness. If you still can’t stop down, shoot the picture anyway: if the composition works, nobody will care about the technical trade-offs.
- Identify the visual center, and focus on that. That’ll be whatever the eye settles on after wandering around in the frame — and if it’s soft, the picture won’t look right.
- If you want infinity to be sharp, focus on infinity. If you’re stopped down to f/16 or f/22, you have some room to pull back, but otherwise, don’t trust hyperfocal shooting. Even though the calculated hyperfocal distance for the Sigma 12-24 wide-open at 12 mm is about 2 meters, that will leave infinity noticeably soggy.
- If you have to choose, focus behind rather than in front of the subject. If you have enough resolution to outline an object, it’ll be perceived as sharp. This means that you can get away with more softness in the foreground, where detail is generally bigger, than the background, where detail is small — sometimes “infinitely” small.