5 Uses for a Wide Angle Lens :: Digital Photo Secrets

5 Uses for a Wide Angle Lens

by David Peterson 4 comments

Most people end up with the kit lens that comes with their new DSLR. It's a good place to start, and this lens is usually in the range of 18-55mm or an upgrade to 18-135mm. The reason for a kit lens is to give you a diverse lens that will accommodate much of your image capturing needs. However, if a kit lens is all you have, and you've expanded your photography skills and interest, it's likely you'll want a few more lenses in your bag. The type of photography you do will influence your choice for your second lens. Today, I'll make the case to purchase a wide angle lens.

What is a Wide Angle lens?

A wide angle lens have more peripheral vision and can 'see' more of what is to their side. Because of this quality, many people use wideangle lenses for landscape photos because the lens pulls more of the landscape into the picture. Wide angle lenses have a focal point less than 35mm.

Here are a few tips and situations for using a wide angle lens.

1. Filling the Frame

Before we get into the genre uses, I want to cover a few tips for using a wide angle lens if you're not used to one. One of the main reasons photographers love their wide angle lens, is that it captures so much more in an image. A 16-35mm lens boasts a wide viewing angle of 108 degrees. But, remember that this is more space so ensure that you aren't including unwanted items along the edge. At such a wide angle, things as silly as your tripod leg or your own leg is suddenly in the image. It's a good habit, no matter what lens you use, to scan the entire frame to ensure only the items you want are in your image. This rule applies to any of the following scenarios, so I just wanted to point it out.

2. Be Careful of Distortion

A wide angle often means you will experience some distortion. This can be a good thing, or it can backfire depending on the creative results you're looking for. One thing to know is that when you're using a wide angle lens, the lines in your image will not be as straight as you'd think. For example, if you photograph a building, the building will appear as though it's tipping over. In another scenario, if you aim your camera and wide angle lens at some tree tops, you will notice how the tree tops merge together toward the middle. If you get low and close to a road with double yellow lines, they will appear to converge together. These are just a few examples of distortion that can be creative in the right scenarios. It makes it worth experimenting.

3. Wedding Photographers

Naturally, the point of a wide angle lens is to fit more of the scene before you on the frame. Wedding photographers are faced with this challenge even with a 'small' wedding of 50 people. The group photos that go in a wedding album are best captured with a wide angle lens to ensure Granny Mae's or Aunt Ruby's arms aren't cut out of the shot. A wide angle lens will allow for that extra expansiveness to include the whole family.

In addition, during the service, the wedding photographer, or second shooter, can capture the audience all at once or the scene at the alter to include the trellis, minister, couple, bridesmaids, and groomsmen! Maybe the couple takes a walk along a path at sunset and a landscape shot of their tender moment is in order.

  • Fujifilm FinePix F47fd
  • 100
  • f/4.0
  • 0.004 sec (1/250)
  • 8 mm

group by Flickr user _sarchi

4. Landscape Photographers

Mother Nature's captivating land and seascapes or a populous cityscape are definitely the best reason to purchase a wide angle lens. In order for your landscape images to stand out, you will need a different perspective than everyone else's, especially if you're photographing in a popular spot like the Grand Canyon or the London Bridge. With a unique perspective comes more interesting results, and this is what a wide angle lens will deliver.

When using a wide angle lens for land, sea, or cityscapes, the key elements are what's in the foreground, middle ground, background, and the sky. To gain that unique perspective, it's best to be as low and close to the foreground subject as you can because wide angle lenses have the tendency to make objects appear smaller than they are. So, you can counteract this by moving in close, which will provide more of what you might be looking for in your results. If you shoot too far away from the foreground, the results will most likely result in a 'flat' looking image. Therefore, I encourage you to get in as close as you can. Don't be surprised if in some or more cases, this will mean being within a few inches of the foreground.

While a wide angle lens is meant to capture a grandiose landscape, the key is adding depth and interest to your image.

Here's a simple guide: Find an interesting foreground subject. Position your DSLR at varying heights to give the image a middle ground that leads the viewer's eye to the background. Lastly, check to be sure your sky is interesting. So many landscape photos are ruined by a plain sky (although you can replace a so-so sky in post production) .

If you venture out to find compelling landscape shots, these are good tips to follow, but remember that there will always be exceptions. The main thing is to find a new perspective through your wide angle lens and to remember that it will deliver different results, so you want to accommodate with proximity and angle to your subject.

5. Sports Photographers

Most fields, courts, and other venues for sports are wide! Therefore, if you're photographing rugby, soccer, baseball, or any other sport that you want to encapsulate the entire field or venue, a wide angle lens is a must.

The good news about a wide angle lens that's worth bringing up here is that they often have lower apertures. This lets you keep the aperture open wide, allowing more light in and the ability to bump up your shutter speed. When you're capturing moving athletes, this will be of importance!

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  1. Gilbert Pack says:

    Hello David,
    I recently brought a new cannon. I was tired taking pictures with my smart phone. I noticed that some picture I was taking with my cannon and lens (that came with camera) that some of the pictures I wanted (or was trying to capture) didn't fit in the frame. I was considering purchasing a wide angle lens, but I have little knowledge about photography. Your article gave me a better understanding on how to use the wide angle lens to capture the photographs I want. It also gave me insight in distortion; what to look out for and to be aware of when using the lens. Thanks, and I'll be purchasing a wide angle lens.
    Thanks again,

  2. Morton Lewis says:

    I also think this post is awesome. Well thought out, easy prompts to follow, information that make you feel lucky to be living at this technologically hip time in history. Thanks Dave

  3. Dameon says:

    Attention wedding photographers! PLEASE DO NOT USE A WIDE ANGLE LENS, the only time a wedding photographer should use a wide angle is for a few major group shots. Any more than that and you will have many unhappy clients due to bad distortion in the face. Again please only use wide angle for the group shots of large groups. Sorry to criticize your article David, just felt the need to inform people of this problem.

  4. Denise says:

    David, your article gives a clearer picture (no pun intended) on wide angle lenses and the outcomes. I've added a wide angle lens to my kit :)

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.