Wide-angle lenses – you use them to cram more stuff into your photos. Now wait… If that’s what you know about this type of lens, you’re missing the whole point. A wide-angle lens can be a very powerful tool for different types of photography ranging from landscape and architecture to creative effects and even to portraiture. But you really need to know what you are doing. Otherwise, you’re going to fail miserably and be disappointed with your results.
In this article, I am giving you an overview of the most important aspects of wide-angle photography and a bunch of essential tips that will make your wide-angle adventures so much more rewarding. I have collected some video resources for you that will really teach you how to take the right approach. There’s lots to learn, so let’s dive right in!
Comprehensive overview of wide-angle basics
Ben Long puts the concept of wide-angle lenses into perspective for us. He gives you an overview of the basic concepts, problems, advantages and differences to other types of lenses. He answers questions like What actually is a wide-angle lens?, What can you photograph with them? and What do you have to pay attention to?
Putting it into practice
Here, Mark Wallace gives you three essential tips for using a wide-angle lens. Then, he puts it to practice and shows you how he actually uses a wide-angle lens for specific scenes.
The distortion of a wide-angle lens
In this video, John Greengo gives you a very good illustration of which type of distortion you can expect from a wide-angle lens compared to other lenses. These types of distortion are very important to keep in mind while you are shooting as they profoundly influence the way you have to position objects in your frame.
How to use the distortion to your advantage
In this video, Mark Wallace gives you a simple demonstration of how you can use the distortion that comes with changing the distance to your subject to emphasize certain elements of your pictures. Anything that’s close to the lens will be very big. This is a simple trick used by most landscape photographers to get great foreground elements into their images that create a lot of depth.
Portraiture with wide-angle lenses
Contrary to popular belief, you can actually shoot portraits using wide-angle lenses. But you have to really work your composition to avoid unflattering distortion of your subject. If you manage to do that, a wide-angle lens can be a very powerful tool for creating environmental portraits that show your subject within their natural environment. This will help you tell very interesting stories in your photography.
In this video, Matt Granger shows you his tips for achieving that.
Summary of the tips
Here’s the summary of tips for wide-angle photography from the videos above:
- Get close to your subject. Anything that is more than a few meters away gets really small really quickly in your images. Conversely, anything that is just a few inches away from your lens will be displayed very big. Use this effect to your advantage to depict foreground elements prominently by getting really close to them. This takes a bit of practice.
- Compose your shots carefully to make sure that your subject stands out. Wide-angle images tend to be very busy, simply due to the sheer amount of stuff that’s typically in the frame. Make sure your main subject stands out from the crowd, for example by getting really close.
- Avoid shooting people close-up. A wide-angle lens will make their noses appear huge due to the distortion. Get the distance to your subject right to avoid this and place people towards the center of the frame to avoid distorting their limbs when they are at the edges of your frame.
- Watch for distortion in the frame and try to place your subject(s) such that the distortion works for you, not against you. The closer your an object is to the edge of your frame, the more distorted it will be. That’s problematic for anything of known dimensions and shape (like the human body).
- Watch your exposure. Due to the extreme angle of view, your camera sees a lot that it thinks needs to be expose for. This makes its job harder, and you may have to manually compensate for that, for example, if a light source at the edge of your frame causes your camera to lower the exposure making your main subject too dark.
- Check for lens flare. Wide-angle lenses are particularly susceptible to this kind of artifact that appears when your are shooting into the sun. Lens flares are notoriously hard to remove in post-processing and can ruin your images. Move your camera slightly until the flare spots either disappear or are in places where you can remove them afterwards. You can also shield the sun with your hand to avoid lens flare.
- You will see your own shadow in your photos more often as your angle of view extends very close to you into the areas where your shadow usually is when you’re shooting with the sun in your back. Make sure you check if your shadow is visible in your shots and try to change your framing to avoid that.
- Watch for distraction at the edges of your frame. It is very easy not to pay attention to the edges of your frame where you typically find things like tree branches sticking in, distracting your viewers. You have to pay extra attention to those edges to eliminate any such distraction.
- Watch for converging lines. A wide-angle lens exaggerates lines in all kinds of ways. Use that to your advantage to create leading lines and avoid converging lines in places where they distract the viewer. The best way to avoid converging vertical lines is to keep your camera level with the ground. Do not tilt it up or down. This is more important for photos with straight lines like architecture shots, for example. In landscape photography, the effect of tilting your camera up or down is usually much less visible as there are few or no straight lines that serve as a reference.
- Be aware of the extreme depth of field such a lens gives you. The shorter the focal length, the more you can get in focus at the same aperture. At the extreme end, it is very hard to actually blur any of the background. On the other hand, especially in landscape photography, you often want to have everything in focus. That’s where this property comes in handy.
- Be careful with polarizer filters. Polarization works best at a 90° angle from the sun and decreases quickly as that angle changes. Since wide-angle lenses capture such a wide angle of view, you cannot really restrain them to the optimal viewing angle for using a polarizer filter. Therefore, especially the sky in your images will show strange shifts in toning if you use a polarizer filter.
- Make sure you use the corrective means in post-processing. For example, use the lens correction features available in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw to reduce the distortion and to straighten lines. A good advice here is to shoot a bit wider than you actually need to since any correction will take away some parts on the outer edges of your images. As the software distorts your images to counter the lens distortion, the edges of your images are bent out of shape and become curves rather than straight lines. The necessary cropping will remove some parts, especially in the corners. So make sure the essential parts of your subject do not extend all the way out to the edges and corners. This should also be avoided due to the extreme distortion in those regions.
Wide-angle photography lets you create some great effects and gives you lots of ways to add an extra dimension to your compositional work: distortion. But in order to make this work, you need some basic knowledge and experience. Otherwise, you end up being disappointed. With the 12 essential tips above you can master your wide-angle photography.
Use this article as a reference and come back to learn the techniques step-by-step when you’re ready for it. Simply bookmark this page.
Here are some additional pointers to external resources about wide-angle lenses and photography. But before you leave the site to jump to one of these links, consider signing up to our newsletter. You will get a free ebook and great photography information regularly straight to your inbox.
- Using wide angle lenses [Cambridge Color]: Here you will find a precise description of the concept in an systematic and accessible style.
- How to Use Ultra-Wide Lenses [Ken Rockwell]: Ken Rockwell gives you a great overview with many examples.
- Wide-angle lens ranking at www.lenstip.com: If you are planning on buying a wide-angle lens, here’s a concise list of the available lenses with user ratings, reviews and specifications.
- Focal Length Comparison Tool [Tamron]: You can experiment with different focal lengths without even touching a camera in Tamron’s Focal Length Comparison Tool.
- The Landscape Lens [outdoorphotographer.com]: If you want to get more into the technical details of wide-angle lenses and learn what to watch out for in terms of specifications, this article has some great information for you.
What do you think?
Let me know what you think and what your experience and tips are for using wide-angle lenses. Comment below!