Don’t Use Your Wide Angle
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received as a photographer has been given to me by my friend Eduardo Soteras. We were drinking warm tea at the chilly high-altitude village of Kyanjin Gompa, Nepal, chatting about our photographic experiences when he told me about a bad habit that a lot of us tend to have: framing with the widest angle available.
We probably all have had this habit, some of us still have it, and it is totally natural. I mean, there is so much information you can capture in one single shot using a wide angle lens, why wouldn’t you use it? Actually, more often than not it will make your photograph look messy. There will be so much distractions on the resulting photograph that the viewer will have no idea where to focus nor will she understand the story within it. Yes, sure, they kinda have a wow effect, but that’s not really what I am after when I’m making photographs. Are you also feeling the same? Then let’s see how we can deal with that.
If you’re working with prime lenses, then maybe should you attach a lens of more than 28mm by default on your camera and work with it as much as possible. If you’re using a zoom, then an idea would be to set it at its longest focal length by default and think about setting it again like this after each series of photographs. For instance, when I had to work with a 16–35mm zoom, I’d make sure it is set to 35mm before shooting and back up only when necessary. Then, if you really need — I mean REALLY — to get widest, it is up to you. But having the longest focal length set by default will inherently force your vision to focus towards details. Then you’ll learn to frame in such a way that only the strict necessary will be part of the resulting shots. If this is not enough, then get rid of this (ultra-) wide angle lens — keeping in mind that a wide angle lens can still be useful in some situations. That’s actually what I did and 24mm is the widest angle I have now.
Get close, get close, get close. — Robert Capa
Another approach is to keep using your wide angle and fill the frame by getting even closer to your subject. This is a great way to give your photograph a sense of proximity, especially when photographing people. But it requires your being confident with your subject — more to come on this topic — and also being very careful at the distortion implied by such lenses, especially on the edges: you don’t want to get a stretched face, do you?
Also, by combining these two approaches you can really get the best of each by getting close without having to worry too much about the lens distortion. Why don’t you try, for example, to work for a while with a 35mm and try to get as close to your subject as you can? You would probably be astonished by what can be achieved with one single lens.
So, in order to make sure this is clear: unless it is your primary intention, like getting very close to your subject, don’t use your wide angle! Look for the details.
I’d be happy to learn from your experiences with wide and ultra-wide angle lenses. Do you often use them successfully? Or maybe do you think they should be avoided in most cases? Don’t be shy and please share your thoughts in the comments!
If you’re not familiar with the concept of #MakePhotographs or feel outraged by what’s written here, please read this.
- Here I’m implicitly thinking of the 24x36mm format, also called full-frame, meaning that if you’re using a different type of camera you need to apply the underlying coefficient to get the equivalent focal length of your lens.