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Chapter 9. Working with Lenses > Using Wide-Angle and Wide-Zoom Lenses

Using Wide-Angle and Wide-Zoom Lenses

To use wide-angle prime lenses and wide zooms, you need to understand how they affect your photography. Here’s a quick summary of the things you need to know.

  • More depth-of-field. Practically speaking, wide-angle lenses offer more depth-of-field at a particular subject distance and aperture. (But see the sidebar below for an important note.) You’ll find that helpful when you want to maximize sharpness of a large zone, but not very useful when you’d rather isolate your subject using selective focus (telephoto lenses are better for that).

  • Stepping back. Wide-angle lenses have the effect of making it seem that you are standing farther from your subject than you really are. They’re helpful when you don’t want to back up, or can’t because there are impediments in your way.

  • Wider field of view. While making your subject seem farther away, as implied above, a wide-angle lens also provides a larger field of view, including more of the subject in your photos.

  • More foreground. As background objects retreat, more of the foreground is brought into view by a wide-angle lens. That gives you extra emphasis on the area that’s closest to the camera. Photograph your home with a normal lens/normal zoom setting, and the front yard probably looks fairly conventional in your photo (that’s why they’re called “normal” lenses). Switch to a wider lens and you’ll discover that your lawn now makes up much more of the photo. So, wide-angle lenses are great when you want to emphasize that lake in the foreground, but problematic when your intended subject is located farther in the distance.

  • Super-sized subjects. The tendency of a wide-angle lens to emphasize objects in the foreground, while de-emphasizing objects in the background can lead to a kind of size distortion that may be more objectionable for some types of subjects than others. Shoot a bed of flowers up close with a wide angle, and you might like the distorted effect of the larger blossoms nearer the lens. Take a photo of a family member with the same lens from the same distance, and you’re likely to get some complaints about that gigantic nose in the foreground.

  • Perspective distortion. When you tilt the camera so the plane of the sensor is no longer perpendicular to the vertical plane of your subject, some parts of the subject are now closer to the sensor than they were before, while other parts are farther away. So, buildings, flagpoles, or NBA players appear to be falling backwards, as you can see in Figure 9.9. While this kind of apparent distortion (it’s not caused by a defect in the lens) can happen with any lens, it’s most obvious when a wide angle is used.

    Figure 9.9. Tilting the camera back produces this “falling back” look in architectural photos.

  • Steady cam. You’ll find that you can hand-hold a wide-angle lens at slower shutter speeds, without need for image stabilization, than you can with a telephoto lens. The reduced magnification of the wide-lens or wide-zoom setting doesn’t emphasize camera shake like a telephoto lens does.

  • Interesting angles. Many of the factors already listed combine to produce more interesting angles when shooting with wide-angle lenses. Raising or lowering a tele-photo lens a few feet probably will have little effect on the appearance of the distant subjects you’re shooting. The same change in elevation can produce a dramatic effect for the much closer subjects typically captured with a wide-angle lens or wide-zoom setting.


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