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Wide-angle Lens Characteristics and How to Get More Out of Them

A wide-angle lens allows you to capture a wide view. However, as it also possesses characteristics that may cause the subject from appearing distorted, care is needed when you make use of this type of lens. In the following, I will explain techniques for using a wide-angle lens under different scenarios. (Reported by: Ryosuke Takahashi, Model: Natsuki Ota)

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Characteristics Unique to Wide-Angle Lenses

One of the characteristics of a wide-angle lens is the ability to capture the expanse of a scene in an image with its wide angle of view. Also, it is able to create an intriguing deformed effect when you photograph the subject from a close distance. These characteristics can be utilised to bring out the shape of a subject or the depth of a landscape. That being said, care is needed as distortion is more likely to occur toward the edges of the image. To make effective use of a wide-angle lens, it is important to control both the angle of view as well as distortions in the image at the same time. By doing so, you will be able to add a dynamic touch to your photographic expression.

Q1: How can I draw attention to the depth of a road?

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/320 sec., EV+0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

A: Try composing a vertical shot

The key here is how we can make full use of the expanse of the image by choosing skilfully between a vertical and a horizontal composition. In this example, I introduced the road in the foreground and the blue sky into the composition with a vertical shot to create the impression of a never-ending road. The wide angle of view, in particular, has a stronger effect on the long side of the image. In other words, you can utilise a vertical or a horizontal composition to stress the "depth" or "expanse" intentionally. Also, by allowing the road in the foreground to occupy a large part of the composition, contrast is created with the point of convergence in the far distance, which naturally brings out depth in the image.

In a horizontal composition, the wideness of the angle of view works in the horizontal direction, which is unable to convey the depth that characterises this location.

Q2: How to capture shots without distorting the portrait subject?

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/400 sec.)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

A: Position the portrait subject at the centre

Due to the properties of wide-angle lenses, a subject that is positioned closer to the edge would appear more distorted. This distortion is proportionate to the width of the angle of view, and becomes stronger with a shorter focal length. While you do not have to worry too much when photographing subjects such as landscapes, portrait subjects must not be positioned at the edge of the image when you are taking a portrait or commemorative shot using a wide-angle lens. Otherwise, the subject would be distorted. To avoid this problem, the best way is to place the subject closer to the centre where there is less distortion.

Due to the properties of the wide-angle lens, the face and body are being stretched outward, making the subject look distorted in this example. Although you might have the intention to include different objects in the background, such a composition should definitely be avoided in a portrait shot.

Q3: How do I make use of perspective?

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 16mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/30 sec.)/ ISO 2500/ WB: Auto

Using the Live View function, I placed the camera at a low position close to the ground to capture the pillars from a steeper angle. Always bear in mind to consider both the height and angle as a set when you are photographing.

A: Pay attention to the shooting position and angle

Compared to other lenses with a different focal length range, the wide-angle lens exaggerates the relative distance between near and far objects, thus making it suitable for bold expression. However, you would not be able to obtain the intended perspective effect from the usual height and angle. To further exaggerate the relative distance, the key is to adjust the height or angle to find a position that is at a steeper angle with respect to the subject. The example in Q3 is a shot of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Switzerland. By composing a Live View shot from a low angle, I was able to create a strong perspective effect on the pillars that stretched all the way to the ceiling, thereby stressing the expanse inside the majestic architecture. Note that as wide-angle lenses react sensitively to the shooting height and angle, a little creative effort helps to change the impression of your photo dramatically.

The above is an example of a shot taken at the eye level. There is little perspective effect when the shooting position is high and the camera is not placed at a steep angle with respect to the pillars. The difference is stark when you compare it with the low-angle shot.

Ryosuke Takahashi

Born in Aichi in 1960, Takahashi started his freelance career in 1987 after working with an advertising photo studio and a publishing house. Photographing for major magazines, he has travelled to many parts of the world from his bases in Japan and China. Takahashi is a member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society (JPS).

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