Dramatic change of perspective and size relationships are the boon and bust of wide angles. Don’t think of them just for scenics, architecture, and travel. Why not take advantage of the serious departure from the normal visual relationships of people and objects in the environment?
Wide angle portrait? Emphatically yes! And so easy! Available light hand held, resting on my head for stability. (I’m short!) Mr. Ed Dwight, internationally known sculptor, is pictured among his impressive gallery display. Incidentally he was the nation’s first black astronaut!
My signature wide angle is a Canon 16-35MM ‘/2.8 zoom. As a documentarian, I like to get close-up and personal in the midst of the action. The zoom makes it easy when it may be impossible to step backwards or forwards to control distance and composition. Whether as an introduction or refresher course, lens fundamentals make us all better photographers. Master the rules so you know when and how to break them. Composition, point of view, bokeh, impact and storytelling all depend on your lens choices.
Here’s what wide angle lenses are good for:
- grand view that can make any venue look like a palace
- handy coverage of tight angles, small rooms, and in crowds
- variable distance action and movement; up close and personal impact
- scene setter cut-aways: great in still collections and in Fusion video too
- very forgiving wide depth of field is the nature of this lens type
- fairly easy focus pulling, because you don’t turn the ring very far
And the cons:
- close objects appear disproportionately large
- possible edge distortion and color fringing (rainbow effect appearing on crisp edges)
- adds unattractive weight to people subjects
- physically harder to get pin-point sharpness, even with auto focus
Even though wide angles are real problem solvers, there are some caveats. Watch for image edges that may take on a curve known as barrel distortion. And beware how a wide angle makes the front people in a group look disproportionately larger than those farther back. This is especially bad if you’re doing a magazine cover or a formal group pose for Supreme Court Judges! Don’t let the wrong lens choice cost you a job.
If you’re really in a tight location and wide angle is your only option, then try these tricks.
- Stand on a chair or platform to look down on the group. Because you’re tipping the lens down, you’re beginning to equalize the difference in distance back to front rows.
- Use one fewer row if possible; three rows never seem to be as badly distorted as four.
- Pose heavier-set people farther back, overlapping shoulders to minimize bulk.
- Elevate back rows by any means possible, and have back rows lean forward a bit to minimize the physical distance between them and the row in front.
- Make sure light does not fall off row to row, because smaller faces in the back look even worse if they’re darker.