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Wide-Angle Photography

Monday, September 21st, 2009 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

For a landscape photographer, a wide or super-wide lens is essential. In full-frame 35mm terms, any lens from 24mm on down will capture the full extent of any landscape, but the best photographs require more than just the right lens. You must know how to take advantage of what the lens has to offer. So keep in mind the following tips and that prefect shot will be just a snap away.

1. Closer


Wide-angle lenses have a larger angle-of-view than other lenses and as a result, a subject will appear further away depending on how wide the lens is. You must therefore move closer to your subject if you wish to eliminate the effect of the wide-angle lenses. With super-wide angle lenses—the 14mm especially—you shouldn’t even worry about getting too close to your subject. So before you tinker with any of your camera’s functions, take a look at the big picture (frame that is) and make sure your subject isn’t too small.

2. Foreground


For your picture’s sake, be conscious of the foreground. Although wide-angle lenses are generally used to photograph wider landscapes, they will also capture a good amount of foreground. Additionally the wide-angle perspective will highlight the foreground, so be aware of it! The Josef Muench idea of the near-far composition suggests the use of a wide-angle lens to focus on one feature of the landscape, not just the expansiveness. If you can’t find a detail to your liking or the prospect of a heightened foreground doesn’t suit you, using a longer lens will make the foreground less visible. However, if you want both your foreground and background to be visible, you could use exposure bracketing (taking the picture in different exposures) and later using any HDR software (Photomatix is best) to convert it into a surreal one like the image above.

3. Leading Lines


Make the most of your composition by adding some leading lines. A stream or railway tracks could act as such lines which act as a guide for the viewer’s eyes, directing them from the bottom corners of a picture to the center. Because wide-angle lenses capture such a large image, leading lines are particularly important as they give focus to the composition. These leading lines can also give a sense of depth: if in the foreground, you focus on the start of a leading line (take a stream, for example) and follow its path through the picture, the stream will become smaller (as measured on the printed photo) particularly quickly due to the breadth of the composition.

4. Vertical


While some great photos are a result of chance, that is no reason to forfeit control of your photograph. You must recognize that wide-angle lenses often alter verticals. While you may desire this effect, consciously choose to make this a factor in your photograph instead of letting it occur at random. If you want the verticals to appear as you see them, try capturing a scene with only one clear vertical. The vertical shouldn’t appear warped because there aren’t other verticals for comparison. In addition, if you work in shift movements with a tilt-shift lens some of the distortion can be corrected pre-exposure. You can also always just correct the verticals after the photo is taken by using Photoshop’s “Lens Distort.”

5. Filter Dos and Don’ts


For starters, a polarizer does not affect a blue sky evenly. A wide-angle lens would further highlight this defect because of the focus the lens gives to backdrops. As a result, the sky will appear abnormal. If you don’t plan to have the sky in your photograph, then you can leave the polarizer on without any problems. Screw-in filters can also bring trouble. Dealing with the filter edges, especially when putting multiple filters on one lens, can become complicated. If you insist on using a filter, try Cokin’s P-series filters with the wide-angle filter holder.

6. Focusing


Wide-angle lenses are relatively simply to focus, but the hyperfocal distance should be kept in mind. The hyperfocal distance of a given lens indicates the closest distance that the lens can center in on a particular object and still achieve an acceptable focus. At 24mm, the hyperfocal distance is about six feet and everything from about three feet and beyond will be in focus, even at f/11. At 17mm—again at f/11—everything from 17 inches away to infinity will be in focus. Finding the hyperfocal distance of your lens will greatly reduce the overall time you spend on focusing, not to mention, help you get the best shot!
While wide-angle lenses are definitely useful, they can easily be used improperly. By using these tips, you can be sure to take advantage of your wide-angle lens.

~Zahid H Javali

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