MARCH, 2021




When using a 35mm camera/digital equivalent, the term wide angle lens usually classifies itself in the “range of lenses” that are lower in number than the standard 50mm lens, such as a 35, 28, 24 and 20mm wide angle lens. (There are “wider angle” lenses than 20mm for the discriminating professional or advanced amateur as well should your application require one). Depending upon the photography you elect to produce and the effects you wish to achieve, will dictate to you and possibly your client which lens you should consider purchasing. Visit your local camera store or on line outlets, and review a brochure on lenses from any photographic manufacturer. Inside, you will find examples of imagery made with a variety of lenses which will aid you in determining the proper focal length that fulfills your needs.

Last year when I was providing instruction to a group of students on one of my field trips, one photographer was elated with her new 28mm wide angle lens. This lens she indicated, is going to revolutionize her photography and get her out of so many awkward situations which have failed her sense of visual design previously. We listened in earnest to her praise of this lens and after awhile I realized that her main reason for purchasing this lens was only due to the fact that she could accommodate “more objects in the picture frame”. Getting more in the picture is in my opinion never a reason to use lenses of this calibre. It is my belief that lenses should be chosen for specific applications just as the designers did when creating them, and they should be considered as “design tools”, benefiting photographers in creating stronger images that command attention. I now engaged my student in conversation and inquired what she was going to photograph with her 28mm lens. She informed me that she wanted to record imagery of flowers accompanied with the horizon off in the distance, standing at regular body height. This is the way she was accustomed to producing photographs previously and consequently, all she was familiar with. She made two pictures of the scene standing facing one direction, then shifted slightly for the next set of exposures. On both occasions, I noticed she omitted from the very beginning to examine the angle and quality of light striking the flowers themselves. Seeing that she was at this point dismantling her camera lens and preparing to reinstate her familiar zoom lens, I subtly asked questions as to her rationale regarding the recently created imagery. How did you feel using your new lens? Did you try several previously unattainable approaches to photographing this scene which you have never been able experience before when using your standard and zoom lens? Did you compose your photographs with your camera aimed down to only include a strip of the horizon making the flowers at your feet the predominant subject matter, emphasizing the inherent dramatic characteristics of the wide angle lens? Did you then reverse your thinking and include just a portion of the ground, thereby making the blue sky with mare’s tails clouds appearing more vast as compared to the effects of your zooms or standard lens limitations? Did you get down on your knees aiming the camera both vertically and horizontally allowing the flowers to actually touch the lens while you were making your photograph, and perhaps focus on an object off in the distance? At what part of the scene did you decide to place your focus on, since wide angle lenses have such inherent depth of field, you can afford to focus on one subject, and many others at the same time will automatically be in an acceptable range of focus as well? This series of questions I frequently ask individuals and are obviously never meant to intimidate anyone. On the contrary, my reasoning is designed to benefit the novice as to what is possible with such an excellent quality lens. People often treat a new lens with the same camera handling techniques they have been using for many years, meaning; they are comfortable photographing in one particular style and often find breaking into new methods of picture making with a new lens difficult. This discussion may become arbitrary to some however, to achieve greater levels of personal growth as a photographer, one must constantly strive to pursue alternate patterns of thought in image creation and never accommodate accepted levels of sheer normality.

Wide angle lenses are sold individually and in zoom lens format. One of the more popular wide angle zoom lenses is the 28mm-85mm lens. It’s small compact size which covers several focal lengths has proven to be a regular in most professional photographers camera bags however in today’s reality, the highly advanced computer designed lenses accommodate greater ranges of focal lengths within one lens. If you enjoy viewing imagery that contains extreme curves and distorted perspectives, wide angle lenses within the 20mm range will produce these effects. Many photographers purchase lenses of this type to intentionally exaggerate architecture or scenic horizon lines. When using a wide angle lens to photograph people a recommended suggestion is to not get to close to the person which causes undesirable distortion of the face. If you are forced into a tight area and must make a portrait of someone using a wide angle lens, I have found that if you centre the persons face in your viewfinder, you will have increased success at making them look somewhat more realistic then had you placed their face off centre or even slightly off to one side. The closer you get to your subject, the more round, curved, and distorted their face will become. This is certainly not a lens to incorporate when creating a complimentary portrait of a person. Unless you are purposely trying to distort a face or any other object; keeping a fair distance away from your subject will produce the most pleasing effects. I would like to mention that I have often used wide angle lenses photographing flowers in very close proximity to them. So close in fact was I in relation to the subject, that they were actually brushing against my front lens element. I find this type of photography rather exploratory in it’s own right, and am intrigued by the vignetted patterns of colour and effects throughout the viewing screen. Wide angle lenses can be quite exciting to use because they give you the opportunity to break the rules visually so to speak. Gone are the rigid vertical lines protruding from the ground which can suggest tension and stability to the photographic artist. Now a person is presented with dynamic curvature, shapes and oblique lines, that before were simply un-achievable using lenses of normal to telephoto in length.

Lastly, and to repeat intentionally, wide angle lenses are well recognized in having a tremendous range of clarity/depth of field characteristics to them. Photographers for years have depended greatly upon this style of lens to successfully record imagery when they “do not” have the opportunity to actually focus on the subject matter itself. I will expand this reasoning in my next column titled “depth of field”. The reader should explore the various wide angle lenses available and implement them as “design tools”, for the creation of advanced photographic imagery.