Taking A Wide View On Photography

Tips on shooting from a wide angle viewpoint.

08/01/2014 - 11:53

Using a wide-angle lens can be tricky unless you know the pitfalls as well as the benefits. There’s a common misunderstanding that a wide-angle lens is only used to include more in the frame when you can’t step back any further, but it’s actually also really good for getting nearer to a subject, thanks to the close focus capability. Moving in closer distorts the perspective and makes the closest subject appear much bigger in the picture while distant objects occupy a smaller proportion of the frame.

Perspective is distorted using a wide-angle lens, but only when you decide to distort it. Simply taking a landscape won’t affect the horizon or a tree, but photographing a person at close range will disproportion body parts, making them look too long or too big. This effect can be useful and amusing.

Watch out for converging verticals which happen as soon as the lens is tilted up or down from the horizon, making buildings or trees look as though they’re tilting or falling over. This can give a benefit of making a tall building look bigger and it’s one of the points we cover in our five tips for using a wide-angle lens.

Portrait and city shot

Interior photography
The problem with some interior photography, especially churches, is the low light levels. To ensure your pictures are high quality, you need to use a low ISO. If your camera has auto ISO make sure it’s switched to manual to avoid noisy pictures. The low ISO will result in a low shutter speed and possible camera shake, and here a tripod will help keep the camera stable.

Because of the dark environment, it’s best to use a remote release or the self timer to reduce camera shake caused by pressing the shutter release. Exposures can be long so it’s best not to be touching the camera when it starts exposing. The wide-angle is great for this kind of photography. You can shoot from a low angle and include foreground items so you get the dramatic lines leading into the picture.

Take a look around the environment for different things to shoot, don’t just stick to the simple formula of getting as much in as you can. Look for interesting areas of the building that will look great when shot with a wide-angle, especially if you include background elements.

Watch out for the white balance – interiors have a mixture of ambient light from windows and artificial light which can play havoc with the settings.

Wides are handy for capturing things in frame you wouldn’t normally be able to with a standard lens. But it’s still worth moving around to see if a better vantage point is available. Look for things leading into the image and choose a low viewing point so that the perspective makes the lead in look as though it’s going on for miles.

Big things
Photographing something big can be problematic without the help of a wide-angle lens and the great thing about using this type of lens to photograph large items is that you can get a lot closer to them to fill the frame. Using a low vantage point will emphasise their size and make them more imposing. Be careful of converging verticals in the frame so that they don’t dominate the image or, if the large subject you’re shooting has them, use them to your advantage. Add something to create scale to give the verticals a reason for being there or use them as a lead-in to the image.

Generally, focal lengths from 90 – 150mm are used for portraiture to give a good depth-of-field and compressed perspective. Using a wide-angle lens with portraits will start to distort the model so it’s best to use it to your advantage and either make the images amusing or distort the right area to compliment the person. 

Light trails
If you fancy a late night, try staying out until it goes dark and shooting some car light trails. Find a relatively busy road, but not one where you’ll put yourself at danger. The advantage of a wide-angle lens is that you’ll get more of the subject matter in the frame. Try to find complex junctions with lots happening and try to get to a high viewpoint to get plenty in. You may have a lucky break and get the moon in the shot too, so look to see if there’s a vantage point that will allow both to be included. A bridge over a main road or top level of a multi-story car park is ideal. Shooting roads that have curves produces more interesting light trails and for this technique, using a long shutter speed is essential. 

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