Why Wide Angle? October 01 2015, 0 Comments

Why You Should Shoot with Wide-Angle Lenses

Wide-angle lenses (lenses 35mm or smaller) are some of the most challenging to use effectively. While, in theory, it may seem easy to use a lens that allows more subject material into the frame, they can pose a challenge when deciding how much to capture.  Wide-angles can also warp objects in the outer edges of the frame. 

This happens with rectilinear lenses (wide angle lenses that keep straight lines remain straight) because the lens design requires shapes to warp in order for the lines to remain straight and not curve (like you would see if you were using a fisheye lens). These lenses also require you to get relatively close to your subject.

So with all these challenges, why would anyone want to shoot with a Wide-Angle lens? Here are a few reasons:

  • You want to exaggerate the space between objects
  • You want to show as much of a scene as you can
  • You want to show a subject in context with his or her environment

Exaggerating Space

As you may have read in our previous posts, wide-angle lenses introduce a kind of distortion that makes objects appear further away from each other than they really are, just like the rearview mirrors on your car. Using this intentionally can allow a space that’s tiny appear significantly larger (think small bathrooms in real estate listings).

Photo by divzi media Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L


Pro Tip: Make sure your shots are level as any elevation on the horizontal or vertical axis becomes painfully apparent with wide-angle shots. Use a tripod with your camera’s built in level or purchase an inexpensive three-axis level to mount in your camera’s hot shoe.

Landscape, Architecture and Interiors

Often times these environments are so large that the only way you can capture what you want is with a wide angle (think expansive nature scenes or large buildings like cathedrals). One of the challenges with this kind of picture is deciding what elements of a scene to accentuate or eliminate. With so much to capture, you have to make decisions about the visual interest areas of the shot.

Take this shot of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai:

Photo by divzi media Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L.


The only way to fit the entire building in the shot was to use with a wide-angle lens. While there were many angles from which this shot could have been captured, the shot that felt right was one that had the palm trees complementing the subject instead of just the building by itself.

Pro Tip: Pay special attention to what is in the background and foreground. Don’t feel compelled to fit everything in, but don’t be afraid to use these elements to improve visual interest in your shot.

Environmental Portraits

Wide angles can be effective for portraits when you want to capture a subject in his or her environment. The key to doing this effectively is to make sure you are close to your subject, sometimes uncomfortably close. This often increases the impact of your image. If you feel like you’re too close, you’re probably exactly where you should be.


Photo by divzi media Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L.


Pro Tip: Try to keep the visual focal point in the center of the frame to minimize any edge distortion. It’s easy for pictures to look cluttered as wide-angles show much more subject material than you may be accustomed to, so be strategic on what supporting elements assist in telling your story. Also, get close only when the subject is not going to hurt you. Wide angle portraits aren’t best for wildlife. No one wants to see you as the next human casualty of Shark Week.

Remember: wide-angle lenses are very difficult to use and take a lot of practice. Don’t get discouraged. Keep trying new things as you learn how to use these lenses to your advantage.

Recommended Wide-Angle Lenses:

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L

Canon 24 f/1.4L

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G


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