Behind the scenes Dance photoshoot
At the Palais des Festivals (Cannes)
Do you use Wide-angle lenses in your work? I do, even when I shoot people, and I believe you should too! People sometimes ask me if they can be used outside architecture photography, and my answer is yes! I believe I am not the only one when I scroll my Instagram feed every day. I've been going wide a lot recently using the 24- 70mm regularly on the wide end and the 16- 35mm too... I even borrowed the 11- 24mm L F4 lens from Canon a few weeks ago and I had some time to play with it and you might have seen some of the pictures I made with it in my previous posts: 24h in Cannes from the pontoon of the Carlton Hôtel to the Palais des festivals and a Gymnast inside the EilenRoc Villa.
But what is a wide-angle lens anyways and what does it do? A "wide-angle" lens is any lens with a short focal length. The Focal length is basically the distance in millimeters from the optical center of your lens to the film or sensor of your camera when your lens is focused at infinity. The shorter the focal length of the lens, the wider the field of view, and the more you'll be able to fit in your frame.
Basically, anything under 35 mm is considered wide-angle. 50 mm and 85mm are commonly used as portrait lenses as they respect the proportions of the human being in front of your lens. 85 mm "compresses" your image and tends to work well on headshots. Telephotos like the 135mm are also great lenses for portraits, and choosing such a lens will lessen the presence of your background depending on your aperture these will give you a thick, creamy "bokeh" allowing a better separation between your subject and your background.
A wide lens will give you the opposite. Your background will be pushed further back and the "bokeh" will be somehow "thinner" and you will have much more in focus. Wide-angle lenses provide the appearance of a much deeper amount of focus (more depth of field) in the scene than telephoto zoom lenses. This is one of the reasons landscape and architecture photographers will often have them in their bags.
Of course, this is a rough description, to help you understand what a wide-angle lens is you can easily find more in-depth descriptions in other articles and videos on the web.
So like a lot of photographers wide-angle lenses were not my first choice when shooting people until recently. Getting close to my subjects has almost become a habit now and I began enjoying it more and more. Let me break it down and share with you a few simple tips and the reasons why I go wide these days.
1/ Making these epic shots!
By choosing to go wide, you can include tons of elements in your frame, you can fit (almost) everything in. By getting close, you immerse your viewer to let them be in the heart of the action. The idea is to get the most out of your scene so getting close will be my number one tip for any beginner. My other advice will be: Fill the frame. Unless you are going for a huge amount of negative space, seize the opportunity to create rich images.
Virginia & Cesar captured in Toulouse - 16mm
Casey Wood inside the Capitole de Toulouse - 24mm
2/ Exaggerating Perspective, use distortion at your advantage
An amazing tool to get creative and give that little surreal dimension to your image. Wide angles curve on the sides or deliver serious warping and distortions. This makes shooting with a human being in your scene tricky. Arms, legs, heads, limbs of any kind that flirt with the edges of your frame will be stretched and out of proportion. You can of course, deliberately give inhumanly long body parts to your subject. I personally have my limits I would not go beyond this shot.
Made with the 11 24 at 11mm you have to be careful with that tilting. If your camera is not flat and leveled weird stuff will happen. Here, I wanted to have those long legs... A bit more would have been too much to my taste. This is why architecture photographers love these lenses. For the love of capturing so much of your environment and playing with shapes and lines without being afraid of distortions.
11mm shot captured in Nice.
3/ Frames and leading lines are more effective!
I use these composition tools all the time in my photography and wide-angle lenses seem to love them! Vanishing point, leading lines telling you where the subject is... This image shot at 16mm has noticeable warping due to the camera "looking up". But it is not distracting and gives that epic, surreal feel and adds to the performance of Jasmin Jai.
One common mistake for beginners is to make images with unclear subjects. Although the background and environment are important, you have to make sure your subject is clear. If you are shooting a person the eye still has to be drawn to them. Personally, I use light and guiding lines to make it clear. if you are working with performers like me, you also got to be careful with unclear poses. We have to understand what is going on. Your subject will sometimes take a small portion of your picture. If that is the case, make sure the pose or movement captured is simple to understand. The best solution sometimes is to go for large tall poses and simple shapes.
4/ Shooting in tight spaces, expanding spaces
One other common use of the wide lens is for small tight spaces. Everything I mentioned above has to be considered in such a situation, all the elements, everything that surrounds you will end up in your picture. All the elements close to the edge of your frame will be distorted so pay attention to details for a balanced picture.
5/ Shoot low...
Not really a reason but a final tip... Most of the pictures in this article were shot down low, laying on the floor. Emphasizing the foreground especially when you have interesting elements. An interesting floor, with patterns, lines like in this picture:
Another 11mm picture where the camera was placed low parallel to the ground. The room is really small, so this shot would have been impossible in one take without the 11 - 24 mm lens.
Ultra-wide lenses will force you to rethink your photography, it will change your habits and might boost your creativity!
My final words on the subject are simple. Work as much as possible with one particular wide lens. Avoid shooting wide for no reason... This will test and educate your eyes and you will quickly understand what you can and cannot do with such a tool. Of course, this is subjective and will depend on your personal tastes. This will change from one photographer to another.
So tell me, do you use wide-angle lenses in your work? What is your experience with them? I am curious to see what you guys do with these awesome tools.
Huge thanks to Canon France for letting me play with the amazing 11-24mm L f4. A fantastic lens that needs a little time to master but that could give unique images once you understand it.