When I’m photographing in a busy city, there are usually three types of shots I go for – close-up detail, people and wide angle. I love shooting wide angle for a number of reasons. Firstly, it enables you to capture a lot more within the composition. Secondly, you’re able to stand much closer to your subject (ideal in tight spaces such as a crowded cityscape), and thirdly, it creates a much more dramatic visual effect if done correctly.
Wide angle means shooting with a focal length between approximately 15mm and 35mm. My wide angle lenses are with me at all times due to their versatility. Portraits, landscapes, cityscapes… every location and scenario lends itself to a potential wide angle shot.
1. Put your wide angle eye in
Shooting wide angles does require some tweaks to your normal methods of composition.
Due to the nature of wide angle photography, your subject matter can appear much smaller in the frame. This can result in your composition looking empty and lacking a visual focal point. Similarly, because you are capturing such a large area within the frame, it may appear overly busy with too much in the shot. For this reason, you need to ensure everything in the shot contributes to the final image, as dead space or overcrowding will become even more prevalent.
2. Move around more
If the foreground is sparse, then shoot lower to the ground to ensure it adds to the scale of the main subject. If the foreground still doesn’t add to the overall composition, tilt your camera upwards and capture more of the sky and clouds. A dramatic sky can add a real ‘wow’ factor to most wide angle shots. Similarly, try moving closer to your focal point so that there in minimal wasted space and the impact of the subject is maximised.
3. Get everything sharp and in focus
Unlike with medium and telephoto zoom lenses, aperture isn’t so important with wide angle lenses when it comes to depth-of-field. Due to the short focal length, shooting with an aperture of around f/7 to f/12 will create a sufficient depth-of-field to ensure everything from the foreground to the background is in focus. What’s more, this aperture range is normally the sharpest point of a lens. Shooting at smaller apertures (higher F numbers) will mean shooting at slower shutter speeds, so use a tripod and a remote shutter release or self timer whenever possible.
4. Draw the eyes to the subject
Use leading lines to accentuate your subject. A modern city is full of features which you can use to help lead the viewer’s eyes, such as roads, bridges, edges of buildings, even the clouds in the sky.
5. Distortion – Not always a bad thing!
Watch out for distortion, or use it to your advantage. Shooting at such wide angles does tend to create some distortion. Lines and features which appear proportionate or straight and true to the naked eye will now appear curved and exaggerated. While this may be perceived as a negative side effect (particularly with portrait shots), it can often create some interesting and impressive effects.
Shooting wide angle is one of those areas of photography which has to be tried and enjoyed. It develops a different set of skills and brings with it a different way of thinking in terms of composition. Coupled with the fact you’ll be adding a totally new range and style of photo to your portfolio, there really is no excuse not to invest in a wide angle lens and get out there in the city.
Author – Oliver Pohlmann