Working with wide angle lenses
So you did the research, you made the choice and you went ahead and bought that fancy new wide angle lens for your DLSR. You slapped it on your camera, took some images and you found that they are a bit uninspiring. This is likely because the wider angle lenses distort your view of the normal world, and as the artist you need to learn some basic techniques to counter this effect. Looking through the lens, notice that subjects close to you will appear to be significantly farther from you than you would expect. You should also take note that objects far away from you like mountains get pushed far to the back of the frame. This is where you need to really watch your foreground and background composition.
I consider wide angle lenses great for artistic composition, remember that when you go wide with your composition, you have to work harder to find foreground interest in your images. Even when an object like a rock is close to you, it appears to be far away with a wide angle lens. You can counter this by walking right up to an object in the foreground, usually a LOT closer than you would expect and adding that object into your composition. This image is interesting to me in that it has some good looking fall colors and the clouds are interesting. I use the ridgeline of the mountain to lead you through the photo, but then you get lost, grasping for something to see other than all the green and bits of fall color. The near 180-degree view angle distorts the reality of the scene. If I were to shoot this scene using a 24-105 I would have chosen a closer composition, focusing on some of the closer trees.
One of the “rules” for art is always have a dominant object. When working with a wide angle lens, it can be difficult to discern what the dominant object of your composition is. Choose your angles so that there is something larger in the frame than the rest. This object should be interesting in detail, texture or another trait. As stated earlier, moving closer to an object in the foreground can achieve this or if possible take a look at the edges of your image and determine if there is something you can add into your composition which will ground the viewer a bit more. The sense of scale with a wide angle lens can be off, so if you can find an object like the road in my image here it can help to reinforce the sense of scale in your composition.
Viewers can tend to get lost in your composition when using a wider angle lens. This can lead to drab or uninteresting images. One of the basics of composition is to embrace Leading lines. Lines in the subject can lead the viewer into and around your image. Interesting clouds along a ridge of a mountain can lead the viewers eye through your frame, just be aware when composing the image where these lines go and don’t leave the viewer stranded in the middle of your image looking for something interesting to see. This is the biggest mistake people make when they first start shooting with a wide angle lens.
The best way to get better with a wide angle lens, like anything is to practice and be critical of your results. Don’t post to social media looking for ooh and ahh on the images, really take a look at the composition of your work and decide if you are lead through the frame and reward the viewer with something interesting to see as they journey through your image.
Get out there and take some photos!
The images used in this article were taken on a recent trip along the Peak to Peak scenic byway drive in Colorado.