From Far and Wide (or Close) – Wide-Angle Lenses

Every photo taken with any given lens tells a story, is it any different with a super/ultra wide?

Which lenses are capable of telling the best stories, the meaningful ones, the dramatic ones?  Most landscape photographers would likely tell your there isn’t a better lens for story telling than the wide angle. 

What is a Wide Angle Lens?

Although considered to be members of the wide-angle family the 35mm and 28mm, in landscape photography the best stories are often told with the ultra-wide-angle lenses like the 14mm to 24mm range. Occasionally, fish-eye lenses offer some great effects. One of my favourite ultra-wide lenses is the Nikon 14mm to 24mm zoom lens.

Why so Wide?

There are several reasons to use ultra-wide lenses. Primarily, wide angle lenses are used for their large angle of view. Viewing angles of 84° for a 24mm and 115° for a 14mm lens are excellent choices. Most importantly the best attribute of them is substantial depth of field. A typical 28mm lens stopped down to f/22, will result in a depth of field in that scene from 3 feet to infinity.  That’s a huge area of total area of sharpness.  Compared to a 20mm lens at the same f-stop (f/22) the depth of field increases to 18 inches to infinity.

What does that extra 18 inches get you with an ultra-wide? It gives you a foot-and-a-half of usable sharp foreground.  Most good quality wide-angle lenses more than any other type of lens are capable of capturing some very up close perspectives.

Note the deliberate inclusion of foreground elements to hook the viewer into the photograph.

The Stigma of Wide Angle

Despite their great qualities, ultra-wide-angle lenses often bear various stigmas from a lot of amateur photographers. Perhaps it’s due to the fact they might believe that it’s more challenging to create good compositions with them. Complaints such as, “it makes everything so small and seem so far away and there’s just too much distraction in the frame” are quite common in my experience.  Often new photographers are taught that they need to “fill their frames” and as a result tend to gravitate to longer focal length lenses with really tight crops.

Ultra-wide-angle lenses allow you to incorporate elements of design to create foreground interest and leading lines into your compositions as well, their incredible amount of Depth of Field ensure a high degree of sharpness in your images.

This is why they are my go-to lenses for the majority of my landscape photography.  The scope of subject matter that an ultra-wide is able to include in the frame provides so much to manipulate. Wide angles allow you to emphasize foreground areas in compositions resulting in images that draw the viewer in.

Use Wide Angle to Add Elements of Design

Ultra-wide lenses amplify the sense of distance from fore to backgrounds. They create an illusion of depth and perspective. When used successfully they emphasize foreground components as a “hook” to instantly grab the viewer’s attention. The most admired landscape photographs include viewpoints with foreground interest such as, stones at the edge of a lake or stream, colourful wildflowers in bloom at the base of a mountain-scape.  

Creating compositions with effective foreground interest make for images that evoke powerful emotional responses. These images can awaken the sense of smell, touch and sometimes taste. This allows the viewer to immerse themselves emotionally into the scene.

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