When to Use Wide Angle Lenses
If you want an enhanced perspective, then a wide angle lens is best. These lenses process a wider field of view than the human eye, and therefore create a better sense of depth. However, while they let you capture more of the scene, wide angle lenses also distort your image. Hence, it’s good to have an idea of when to switch out your 50mm for a 35mm.
Documentary photography one of those times where more is more – more people, more place, more action. Shooting with a wide angle lens lets you capture the whole scene for a better sense of the story. That said; remember to focus in on one clearly defined object or subject rather than cramming everything in all at once. Let the background be the background. Because what’s a true life narrative without its proper context?
Nothing enhances a nature shot like a wide angle lens. In fact, this is what wide angle lenses were traditionally used for. When capturing a sprawling landscape, a good trick is to place a subject (a person, a dog, a rock) a little bit closer to the camera for added depth.
Usually, distortion is a bad thing. There are very few people who love seeing themselves distorted in film. However, distortion can subtly mimic the effects of a fish eye lens along edges lines or in the foreground, which generates interesting opportunities. For example, creeping super close to a looming subject or stunning work of architecture creates a larger-than-life effect to communicate gravitas and scope.
Just kidding! Well, sort of. Close up pictures of people with a wide angle lens tend to create distorted, unflattering portraits. However, wide angle lenses are great for capturing people in their environment. Snap a shot of a skier with the whole mountain behind her or a chef in the sprawl of his restaurant kitchen. What these portraits lack in the intimacy of 85mm or even 160mm lenses, they make up for in greater story and message.
What a sweeping view! A beautiful sky, especially with lovely clouds or stars for interest, looks stunning through a wide angle lens. It’s best to set the ground as about one third of your image, and let the sky fill out the rest.
The wide angle lens is a great early lens to keep in your arsenal. With an unnatural lens, your shots are likely to feel sweeping and ambitious – and sometimes distorted. It’s ok! Learn to use that distortion to your advantage, and you’re in good shape. Whether it’s documentary style, shots of the sky, environment, or dramatic portraits, the wide angle lens delivers.