Wide angle lenses, have often been referred to as the landscape photographer’s lens. There are a number of reasons for that compliment. Landscape photography requires that your lens offers a wide angle of view. It also requires greater depth of field (DOF) and a sharper image quality. All of these are native to wide angle lenses. But the usability of the very popular wide angle lens goes much beyond landscape photography. In this article we shall discuss the many uses of such a lens, including shooting landscape photos. But first what is a wide angle lens?
Wide angle lenses: A definition
Technically, any lens that has a focal length (zoom vs prime) of less than 50mm is considered a wide angle. A 50mm lens is widely considered to be a standard lens because it gives the same perspective as the human eye. There is some debate in this. Some photographers say it is 40mm, others put the 42mm as the standard view. Anyways, serious wide angle starts at 35mm and wider. Anything around or under 16mm falls in the ultra wide-angle category.
Wide Angle lenses: primes vs zooms
I have already discussed in detail about prime and zoom lenses in another article (zoom vs prime). Prime lenses are designed with focus on optical performance. Zoom lenses are more convenient because they allow you to switch focal length and therefore angle of view, just by a turn of the zoom ring. This comes useful when you’re in a situation with limited space to physically move. However, these lenses can sometime cut corners on optical performance slightly lowering its quality compared to primes. Having said that there are a number of notable exceptions. The optically superior 24-70mm f2.8 (made by all lens manufacturers) is a case in point.
Wide angle lenses are available in both prime and zoom varieties. They both have their pros and cons. You can read more about prime vs zoom lenses here. Personally, when it comes to wide angle lenses, I prefer the zoom variety. This is of course when I am not shooting with the 35mm prime. The 35mm prime is a journalist’s choice – sharp, lightning quick, lightweight and cheap. Everything that I expect from a wide angle.
At the end of the day there is no one lens that will suit all photographers or for that matter all situations. The wide angle lens that you end up shooting with will depend on what you are shooting, your pocket and of course your vision.
Wide angle lenses: best uses
1. Include foreground interest
The biggest mistake that a landscape or architecture photographer does when shooting with a wide angle lens is they forget to put something in the foreground. Placing something in the foreground is not only for complying with the rule of thirds, but also to provide a sense of scale in the photo. Wide angles tend to make distant objects from your lens appear smaller than they really are.
Let’s say you are shooting Machu Pichu in Peru from the opposite mountain. The picture is grand, however, with absolutely nothing to refer to in the picture the viewer has no way to sense the scale of the place. Placing a person in your immediate foreground, say turned away from the camera and shooting over his shoulder can immediately give perspective and scale to the image.
2. Get close! Get close! Get closer!
You will hear photographers who shoot with wide angle lenses advice this to you all the time. Get close. But why? This is because wide angle lenses tend to push everything back. That’s the nature of these lenses. Unless you step in close your subject will become a tiny spec in the vast emptiness.
The other advantage of getting close is so that you get to fill the frame with the subject you are photographing. Filling the frame is a much better way of composing your shots rather then leaving vast open spaces.
Say, you are photographing the Blue Mosque with a 14-24mm ultra-wide angle lens. Even though the mosque is pretty big, you will find empty spaces around it when looking through the viewfinder. You have to get very close to the actual building to be able to fill the frame.
3. Follow the fundamental composition guidelines
Certain golden rules of photography like leading lines, rule of thirds, point of interest, lines and diagonals, patterns etc. work super great when working with wide angle lenses. Landscape photographer prefer working from a low angle, keeping a subject in the foreground and a point of interest as already been discussed above.
4. Specific uses of wide angle lenses
Wide angle lenses most often are used by photojournalists and street photographers. This is of course apart from landscape and architecture photographers. A very popular lens with the first two genres is the 35mm prime. Quite often it is pitted against the 50mm, which is yet another wonderful lens to shoot with (though not a wide angle lens technically). Landscape photographers prefer the slightly wider perspective such as the above mentioned 14-24mm lens. This lens is very sharp. Wide angle lenses create better depth of field when compared to tele lenses. Architecture photographers also prefer the wide angle lenses because it allows them to include a close-up element in the foreground making it more visually balanced.
So which wide angle lens are you using? And why? Share your thoughts!
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