LESSON 18: WIDE-ANGLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Your bags are packed and your ticket is booked. The sunny shores or snow-capped mountains of your dream destination await! But before you depart on the adventure of a lifetime, you should give some thought to how you plan to capture the vistas you’ll spot and the memories you’ll make along the way. If you’re a seasoned pro, towing a camera along is second nature. But if you’re unsure of how to best capture the sprawling scenes you’ll stumble across, here are a few tips that will ensure the success of your wide-angle photos!

All About Wide Lenses

While many argue that wide-angle photography is more about the gear and less about the technique, the reality is that being successful relies heavily on both the type of lens used and the ability of the photographer to properly expose, frame, and capture the landscape.

Andy-Card-Photo-Essay-Croatia
Photo by Andy Card
Photo by Oliver Skywolf

If you’re in the market for a good wide-angle lens, consider looking for prime (fixed) lenses at 35mm or less (14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm), or zoom lenses of comparable width. Before you shop, make sure you’re well acquainted with your camera, and determine if you’re in possession of a full or cropped sensor. Pairing a lens with a cropped sensor will magnify the image by a factor of 1.5, making the photo appear more zoomed-in than you may prefer, so always check and test before you buy. If possible, enlist the help of an employee at your local camera store — they’ll be able to answer any questions that you may have.

Factors to Consider

When shooting with a wide-angle lens, there are a few factors you’ll want to keep in mind.

Because the lens does such a great job of capturing vast vistas, you’ll notice some slight distortion or curvature to your photos, which creates a fish-eye effect. While you can certainly use this stylistic result to your advantage, take care if you’re shooting a scene with a lot of gridded lines. To combat unwanted distortion, keep your camera level, point it straight ahead, and shoot low to the ground.

Photo by Angelo Mendoza

If there was ever a time to use the Rule of Thirds, it would be when shooting wide-angle. Because a wide lens enables you to photograph a vast area, a successful photo should be properly framed and filled. Look for points of visual interest to include in the foreground — it will make your images more compelling and help lead the viewer’s eye through the landscapes you capture. You can even experiment with proportions here. When shooting, place a greater emphasis on the sky or on the terrain itself, as both will yield interesting results.

A vintage turquoise car
Photo by Court Prather

Although we cautioned about shooting scenes with grids or straight lines, these scenarios can also work to your advantage. If you’re careful about framing your scene and you use a tripod to steady and align your camera, photographing leading lines with a wide-angle lens can create an incredibly compelling photo with fun, exaggerated proportions.

A red-painted city street
Photo by Carolina Moya

Other Techniques

Wide-angle lenses are also great for techniques like long-exposure shots — though, if you’re planning on including human subjects within the frame, be sure to keep them in the center of the photo. Because wide-angle lenses have a tendency to distort edges, positioning subjects on the fringe can create some strange bodily distortion. You can also amend distortion in post-processing; both Lightroom and Photoshop offer a feature that smooths images to reduce the fish-eye effect based on the type of lens you used.

Photo by Aurelie Amiot

When all is said and done, wide-angle photography requires a fair amount of patience and time. Arrive at your chosen location early enough to get the shot that you’ve envisioned with the lighting that you prefer, and remember that trial and error is the best way to determine how your technique and lens impacts your final image. Happy photographing!

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Invest in a good wide-angle lens that’s either prime (fixed) or zoom.
  • Keep distortion in mind and either try to reduce it or use it to your benefit.
  • Utilize the Rule of Thirds when shooting landscape scenes.
  • Achieve exaggerated images by photographing leading lines.
  • Avoid positioning human subjects at the edges of your photos.
  • Experiment with different framing techniques.

Have any additional tips on wide-angle photography or suggestions on which photography topics we should tackle next? Leave a comment below!

Header image by Joseph Pearson 

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Camille Danielich
Camille is a writer, traveler, and visual storyteller from New Jersey. She has lived in the Czech Republic, Thailand and in New York. She's always looking forward to her next adventure and probably won't stop instagramming her food anytime soon. Follow along on instagram