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

A picture is worth a thousand words, but those words matter; in reality as photographers we’re story tellers or at least aspiring ones.  Every photo taken with any given lens tells a story, is it any different with a super/ultra wide? Perhaps the choice of lens adds some common elements found in literature, such as atmosphere, tone, pathetic fallacy, mood, movement, action and suspense.

So which lenses are capable of telling the best stories, the meaningful ones, the detailed ones?  Ask most landscape photographers and they will most likely tell you there “aint’ no better lens for story telling than the wide angle“. 

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 and occasionally fish-eye lenses. One of my favourite ultra-wide lenses is the Nikon 14mm to 24mm zoom lens.

So, why use these ultra-wide lenses; there are several reasons for this. The primary benefit for these lenses is their large angle of view, 84° for a 24mm and 115° for a 14mm lens and more importantly the substantial depth of field. A typical 28mm lens stopped down to f/22 the maximum depth of field in that scene is 3 feet to infinity.  That’s a huge area of total area of sharpness.  Now, compare that 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? Well, 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 and personal perspectives on photographic moments.

Despite these really great qualities, in my experience ultra-wide-angle lenses continue to bear various stigmas from a lot of amateur photographers. I suspect the stigma is possibly due to the fact they might believe that it’s more challenging to create good compositions with them. I often hear complaints such as, “it makes everything so small and seem so far away and there’s just too much distraction in the frame”.  In my opinion this perception may also compounded that a lot of new and amateur photographers are taught or believe that they need to “fill their frames” and as a result tend to gravitate to longer focal length lenses.

For me on the other hand, these are precisely 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, emphasize and utilize in compositions. I think one of the best ways to find success in composing is to understand and pay attention to your point of view, and of course what’s going on inside your viewfinder.

Ultra-wide lenses amplify the sense of distance from fore to backgrounds and creates an illusion of depth and perspective; using them successfully you can an use foreground components as a “hook” to instantly grab the viewers 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 as they can awaken the sense of smell, touch and sometimes taste that allows the viewer to immerse themselves emotionally into the scene.

To explore utilization of these elements in your compositions don’t be afraid to get low and change your perspective; the process is simpler than you think just ask yourself how does the scene look from the viewpoint of grapes on the vine, a grasshopper perched on a blade of grass.  What does the world look like through the eyes of a small child, a cat or dog, and a field mouse, get low and evoke some emotion every time.

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