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.
(U)WA FOR STREETS (6)
Thats right guys get close up and personal with your subjects. If you think you are close enough THINK again and take one more step and move even closer. Give your photo that special something that only and ultra wide lens can produce. The intimacy that can’t be achieved in any other way.
02. Edges of frame…
This is something that most people tend to forget, but shouldn’t. Why not? For two reasons.
First Reason.As mentioned before, unwanted elements tend to pop into your frame from the edges of your composition. So, make sure you watch those edges and adjust your composition accordingly.
Second Reason. If the elements at the edges of your frame are close enough to you, that means logically that your subject will be even closer which is a good thing.
03. Play with your P.O.V….
Try shooting from the ground with a “rat’s eye view”, or from the hip, or even from above! You can also try shooting upside down or any other different way you can think of. Even a small tilt of your lens can have a dramatic effect on your photo.
Always look for strong leading lines, geometrical shapes, buildings, walls, traffic lines, zebra crossing lines, railway lines and combine them with your subjects to form strong compositions. Place your lines in the corner of your frame and watch them disappear into the distance. Ultra wide lenses tend to give a sense of eternal depth to leading lines. This is something that adds considerable drama to a photograph. Try to understand the relationship between lines, shapes, distance and your subject.
Look for interesting skies. The formation of clouds, their shape and the contrast between dark and white clouds can be used to your advantage in your composition. Using a sky properly in your photograph can transform the final result from average to just WOW!!
06. Shoot your heart out…
And my last but not least tip is to shoot shoot and shoot again.
(U)WA for Travels (6)
01 Get close
This is probably the most obvious, but wide angles allow you to get much closer to large objects, and create interesting perspectives by converging parallel lines. For maximum sharpness, be sure to use f/8 or narrower, and set focus on the nearest point (the base of the building if you’re looking upwards).
02 Look for a foreground subject
Landscapes can be uninteresting without something to place in the scene. Try to find an object to occupy the foreground. Set the apperture narrow (f/8 – f/10) for maximum depth of field, or if you’re close enough use a wider aperture to create a little background blur and emphasize your subject.
03 Crop panoramas
If number 2 fails and you find yourself taking a wide landscape with nothing in the foreground (hey, we all take them), be sure to crop to a wide aspect ratio (e.g. 16:9). This reduces the “dead space” in the foreground and focuses on the interesting parts, which are probably going to be around the horizon.
04 Don’t fear the polariser
Some people advise not to use a polariser with wide angle lenses because of the uneven skies it creates. Also because of the wide angle of entry, the effect is stronger at the edges and weaker at the centre.Tree Rock in the Uyuni desert, BoliviaA statue in Oslo. Polariser created a much deeper contrast between the sky and clouds.Yes, you can get some strange effects and I’ve ruined more than a few shots by having the polariser rotated the wrong way, but it’s usually possible to create a desirable effect. If you embrace it you can create some dramatic skies, just be sure to spend a bit extra on the thin variety to avoid vignetting.
05 Embrace interiors
Wide angles are great indoors. They make small spaces appear larger, and give a viewer a better sense of being in the room with you. The big disadvantage of wide angle lenses for indoor use is that they tend to have narrow apertures requiring higher ISO.
06 For the lens part, you need f/4 or faster
(A f/1.4 really delivers.) You can easily break the bank buying these paragons of the glassmakers’ art. However, consider several affordable alternatives, like a 17-50mm f/2.8 zoom that isn’t too big or expensive. Or look at a 24mm f/2.8 fixed focal length, which will be unobtrusive yet offer great image quality in tough situations. A 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 also is a good choice, but it won’t deliver a wide view.
(U)WA for Portraiture (5)
01.Wideangle portraits: Getting in close
The closer the subject is to the lens, the more distorted the shape of their head and the facial features will be. Combined with the right facial expression, this can produce humorous portraitsTo take a head shot with a wideangle lens you will have to be very close to the subject.Also, objects closer to the lens will appear distorted and relatively bigger than they actually are. Conversely, objects further from the lens will seem even further away still.When taking a portrait this means the subject’s nose will appear to be very large, while the ears and sometimes the eyes will appear far smaller.Obviously, these distortions mean wideangle lenses are inappropriate for most serious portrait studies. However, there are certain types of portraits that can use the distortion to great effect. For instance, the caricature effect created by a wideangle lens can be quite humorous, and for this reason it is �not uncommon to see wideangle portraits of comedians.If you are planning to take a wideangle portrait it is important to make the effect look as deliberate as possible, otherwise it will simply seem as if you have used the wrong lens. One way to do this is to have the subject pull an odd or exaggerated facial expression that complements the caricature effect that a wideangle lens creates.
02 Wideangle portraits: Shooting from below
A wideangle lens will help you capture a full-length portrait of a subject when in a confined space, and shooting a full-length portrait from below your subject’s waistline can make them look taller.For example, the actor Humphrey Bogart was only 5ft 8in, yet on-screen he looks taller and more dominant. This is because he was nearly always filmed from a fairly low angle.Combining a wideangle lens with a low angle exaggerates your subject’s height even more. Their feet and legs will appear larger and longer, and their body will converge upwards, making their limbs seem completely out of proportion to their head.As when taking a standard �head shot, it is best to try to make �this effect look as deliberate as possible. Draw as much attention as you can to the subject’s now enormous feet, perhaps by having �the subject wear a particularly striking pair of shoes, or pulling an exaggerated pose. I often ask the subject to walk towards the camera. Then, when they are close, I take an image at a point when one of their feet is lifted off the ground
03 Wideangle portraits: Exaggerating for emphasis
Wideangle lenses can easily change the sense of scale to add emphasis to a particular feature or item. One of the most popular ways to do this is to have the subject stretch out their arms so their hands are close to the lens. The result will be hands that look huge, while the subject’s head appears a lot smaller and further away.The trick is to make the hands look interesting. A simple thumbs up or pointing gesture is often a good starting point, or the subject could frame their face with both hands.Another idea could be �to have your subject hold �up an object to the lens. �For a portrait, it’s usually a good �idea if the item relates to the person in the photograph. A writer or artist could perhaps point using a pen, pencil or brush. Similarly, a fellow photographer could hold up their favourite camera, or a goalkeeper could grip a football at arm’s lengthRemember, it’s the person you are interested in, so make sure you’re focusing on their eyes and face, rather than their hands. Of course, a small aperture could give you a large-enough depth of field to keep everything in focus.
04. Wideangle portraits: Shooting from above
With the camera above the subject’s head, the opposite effect to shooting from below is achieved. The perspective makes their head look huge.This is because their body converges down to a point at their feet.This makes the subject look very childlike, as their head looks slightly too big for their body. Also, having them look up recreates the same perspective that we see when looking down on a child.
0.5 Wideangle portraits: Environmental portraits
The most obvious reason to use a wideangle lens when taking a portrait is to capture your subject’s surroundings. In particular, when shooting indoors, there is often little room to do this when using a standard portrait lens, so a wideangle optic is the only option.When shooting a subject and their surroundings, keep the subject colse to the centre of the frame to minimise facial distortionOnce again, you can use the distortion created by the lens to exaggerate foreground objects so that they pop out of the picture, or to help frame the subject.
get CLOSE –
FOREGROUND interest –