A wide angle lens is a great addition to any photographer’s tool kit. It allows creative expression in ways that simply can’t be achieved with longer focal lengths and the related narrower fields of view. Like any other tool, however, it isn’t intended for every job. More importantly, there’s a lot to consider in using it if you really want to create outstanding images.
…it’s not enough just to shoot wide.
While the field of view changes with your wide-angle lens, the rules of good composition don’t. Neither does any other aspect of the process. In other words, it’s not enough just to shoot wide. The example below shows the result of shooting wide without enough purpose. Technically speaking, it’s a decent photo. Unfortunately, it’s not a very interesting one. Let’s look at some of the problems evident in this shot and how they can be avoided.
1. Shooting Without a Strong Focal Point
The image above depicts a pretty sunset over a nice beach. There’s even a nice leading line created by the reflection on the sand. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much to look at where the line ends at the horizon. Yes, the sun is there, but is it really enough to hold a viewer’s attention? Without a focal point, your eyes simply wander around the image, looking for a point of interest.
The image below is one example of the difference a simple focal point makes. While there are several elements in this image, including a spectacular sky and a village in the distance, your eye is immediately drawn to the horses. Even though they don’t dominate the frame, their placement in the frame and the effect of the other objects in the scene give a viewer’s eye a place to rest. This helps connect the audience to the photo.
2. Staying too far Away from Subjects
Going back to the image above, although there’s a clear subject, the impact is somewhat lessened by the fact that there’s very little visible detail in the horses. If the image leaves your viewers wanting to get closer, you probably should have done so yourself.
If the image leaves your viewers wanting to get closer, you probably should have done so yourself.
With a new wide-angle lens in hand, it’s normal to want to get as much of that amazing scenery as possible in the frame. However, you can take advantage of both the field of view and the depth of field it provides by moving closer to the center of interest.
Take a look at the image below and note how the horse that’s most central in the frame immediately becomes the center of attention. The other horses as well as the more well-defined buildings add depth to the image, but they become secondary to the horse with the most visible detail.
3. Including Overpowering Backgrounds
There are a few other improvements in the image above that, while subtle enough to go unnoticed by an observer, have considerable impact on the photo. One of those is the reduction of all the blue hues in the previous image by lowering the camera. Yes, that blue sky is beautiful, but the strong color dominates the image. Because of that dominance, the image loses continuity.
The lower camera angle in the second image of the horses introduces a more serene, green foreground that softens the overall tone of the image. There is still enough blue reflected in the water to balance the image and avoid a sharp division between regions (which creates another unwanted effect – visual division of the image).
4. Creating Images that Lack Depth
Another effect of including more of the foreground in the photo directly above is an enhanced sense of depth. Because of the increased width, it’s incredibly easy to create “flat” images with a short focal length, especially when shooting in landscape orientation. Always look for ways to generate a sense of depth in your wide angle shots. We’ll explore a few ways in the following example.
Here’s another beach sunset shot, this time taken at an angle perpendicular to the shoreline. The powerful perspective achieved with the wide field of view creates convergence that gives the image much greater depth. This is further enhanced by including the family in the foreground, especially since they fall along one of the converging lines. Although barely perceptible, the heads just slightly above the horizon line keep the halves of the image connected (again, avoiding that visual division).
If you’re familiar with the Rule of Thirds, you’ll also notice that it’s used cleverly in several ways in this composition.
…perspective is an extremely powerful element when working with a wide angle lens.
5. Ignoring or Misusing Perspective
In addition to being a great way to convey depth, perspective is an extremely powerful element when working with a wide angle lens. Even a rectilinear lens will affect parallel lines, especially when you adjust the camera angle off-center. This can benefit your image or be detrimental, depending on your skill with this visual tool. Let’s compare a couple more photos:
Here, the wide field of view of the Irix 15mm lens is more than enough to move in close to this Mustang’s grill, and the perspective is apparent in the angles above the hood as well as the lines of the curbs in the frame. Nevertheless, the image really doesn’t “grab” a viewer’s attention. Now, take a look at the image below.
By taking a few steps to the left and moving in even closer, the photographer has achieved a much more captivating view in the photo above, even though there’s another photographer in the shot. The increased sense of perspective at this angle makes the image much more interesting. It also blocks several distracting elements in the frame. It still provides a good view of the iconic Mustang emblem. Note that with a fisheye lens, this shot would have been very distorted.
Perspective is, in fact, such a factor with a wide-angle lens that we’ll probably dedicate a separate article to exploring it. For the purposes of this one, I’ll just say that it’s an important not to overlook its effects in your photos.
These five points are far from the only things you should avoid with a wide angle lens. Because I believe small doses are more effective when it comes to learning, I’d suggest you note and practice these for now and we’ll look at others in a future article. As always, enjoy the experience!