As a photographer who has, for the most part, shot portraits, I’ve always relied heavily on 80mm lenses. In fact, all three of my go-to film cameras have 80mm lenses on them. So when I started shooting with wide-angle lenses, I just wasn’t getting a lot of photos that I was happy with and basically gave up. It wasn’t until late last year when I picked up the Sony 16-35mm F2.8 G Master during our Sony a7r III review.
While having a wide-angle lens might be very appealing—the idea of having a lens that can fit a lot of things in one shot does sound irresistible—shooting with one isn’t actually as easy as it sounds. In fact, shooting with a wide-angle lens is actually one of the most challenging things to master especially if you’re a beginner photographer.
There are a few things you need to consider, like barrel and perspective distortion, when shooting with a wide-angle lens that people might think about when using other lenses. It’s why so many photographers new to the wide-angle scene not only make many (common) mistakes, but also fail to maximize these lenses quirks to their full advantage.
If you’ve just picked up a wide-angle lens to add to your arsenal, here are five trips & tricks I’ve learned when shooting with one that you should also keep in mind.
Don’t try to fit too much in your frame.
Most new wide-angle lens users think that one of the main benefits of such lenses is being able to fit as many elements in the frame or in a single shot as possible. With its wide angle of view, it’s very easy to be tempted to do just that especially when you’ve got a stunning vista in front of you or when you’re in a cool city street with lots of things happening.
The danger of cramming too many elements in one shot, however, is that it lessens that shot’s ability to capture its viewers’ attention because of how hectic it is. Remember, less is more so minimize and shoot tight. Generally, the less busy a shot is, the stronger it is as a photograph. Next time you’re shooting a landscape or street scene, get in closer and simplify your composition.
While shooting Sony’s FE 24mm F1.4 G Master lens in New Orleans, for example, I found that concentrating on shooting particular street elements—a band performing on the street, for example—make for more interesting images than taking photos the city’s very busy streets littered with tourists and road work.
Have a clear subject.
Take a photo of a landscape scene where you don’t really have a clear subject on which your viewers’ eyes will almost immediately land. Then take a photo of that same landscape, but add a subject that stands out in your frame. People will most likely be drawn to the second photo with a prominent subject more than the first image without it.
That’s because not having a clear subject makes images look flat and uninteresting. Your subject doesn’t have to be a person either. It could be a rock on the ground, a purple bloom in the middle of your shot, or autumn vines that frame your scene.
Don’t just shoot things that are at the same distance.
Speaking of making your images look flat and uninteresting… using your wide-angle lens to shoot a scene where all the elements are the same general distance from the lens is a surefire way to do exactly that. In order to make your wide-angle shots more compelling, you need to add depth to your images. By simply changing your perspective or using leading lines, you’ll create more visually stimulation images.
Adding a foreground (or a middle ground or both) to your shot is another great way to add depth and a new layer as well as give life to your wide-angle composition , whether that be a human element to your landscape photo, an interesting landmark or sign to your street shot, or some rocks or vegetation to your water scene.
For example, when I took the Sony FE 24mm F1.4 G Master lens in Yosemite a few weeks ago, I realized that many of my wintery landscape photos were boring and flat until I added a person in my foreground. Same thing happened when I was shooting coastal sunset scenes in Malibu with the same lens. Plus, it also just makes for a better storytelling composition in general!
Get close, but don’t get too close.
Who says you cannot take portraits with wide-angle lenses? While 50mm and 80mm lenses are definitely designed for yielding the best portraits, it doesn’t mean that you cannot obtain interesting results with wide-angles. In fact, some people actually love using them for accentuating their models’ bodies, making them look leaner and taller, or to make their models really stand out in photographs.
The trick is to get close—remember, elements in your composition will look smaller through a wide-angle lens—but not too close that the lens’ distortion makes your subject look like a Martian. Experiment with different angles and distances, shoot in portrait mode, and don’t put your subjects at the corners and edges of the frame unless it’s the look you’re looking for.
Use each lens’ quirks to your advantage.
A wide-angle lens’ distortion doesn’t have to be a drawback. Feel free to use its stretched effect to exaggerate some elements in your composition or make them look larger than life. When done right, distortion can help make for more compelling images.
Wide-Angle Lens Recommendations
Sony 16-35mm F2.8 G
I love the versatility, built, autofocusing, and corner-to-corner sharpness of the Sony 16-35mm F2.8 G Master. It isn’t the most compact of lenses, but it performs incredibly well, and it boasts weather sealing so that you can take it in rugged conditions without worry.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 20mm F1.8 G ED
Nikon shooters will appreciate Nikon 20mm F/1.8G, which is both affordable and excellent performance-wise. Granted, it may not have weather sealing or image stabilization, but is very sharp at F/1.8. It also renders colors beautifully and accurately, and creates smooth bokeh.
Canon EF 11-24mm F4 L USM
The Canon EF 11-24mm F4 L USM might be a little pricey. Ok, it’s plenty pricey. But its excellent image quality, very little distortion, fast and accurate autofocusing, and weather sealing might be well worth the splurge. Plus, with an adapter, you can fit it on that Canon EOS R you’ve been eyeing.
Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS
Fuji’s wide-angle zoom, the XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS, produces very sharp photos with beautiful colors. It also offers image stabilization, a constant aperture, and solid built, making it one of Fuji’s best wide-angle lenses on the market. Best of all, the price is fairly affordable, making it accessible for most budget photographers.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO
If you’re a Panasonic or Olympus Micro four-third shooter looking for a wide-angle lens, look no further than the stunning 7-14mm F2.8 Pro. Compact and weatherproof, the 7-14mm F2.8 PRO is sharp and fast and contrasty with minimal distortion. It’s perfect for both filmmakers and photographers.