Or How To Photograph People With A Wide-Angle Lens
I love shooting with wide-angle lenses. Why? Because they’re fun, funky and slightly out of kilter. Sort of like some of my favorite people! But seriously, the word on the street used to be NO WIDE ANGLE LENSES FOR PEOPLE SHOOTING.
Because of their inherent tendency to distort things. People were afraid it wouldn’t be a pretty picture.
So what’s wrong with a little distortion? Nothing, if you use it judiciously. People (read adults with any sense of vanity whatsoever) fear being made to look strange and goofy (read fat). It is true that capricious use of wide-angle lenses can render subjects looking downright strange. And it is also absolutely true that whatever sticks out most, can be made to look bigger. If that something happens to be a stomach….well, there ya are.
However, that need not be the case. I LOVE all three of the images above because all of these photographers have totally ROCKED ultra wide angle for all she’s worth. However, that said, I realize not everyone is as hardcore as I am. So gentle reader, I will show you how to moderately rock it wide.
The first thing to understand is this; the further away from the subject and the more perpendicular to the horizon the ‘film’ plane is, the less distortion. It is when we move in close and tilt the film plane off axis that distortion creeps nay, BOUNDS in. And that, my friends, is where the fun is. Allow me to demonstrate.
This image was taken with a moderately wide (Nikon 20mm f/2.8) angle lens. Notice there is very little distortion, because I am several feet away from the subject and I am shooting from a ‘straight on’ perspective, neither tilting the camera up or down.
In this next shot of the same girl, I have stepped in much closer to the subject and am now shooting slightly down at her.Notice how the steering wheel and arm closest to the camera loom large?However, because this is neither an extreme wide angle (14mm or wider) nor am I shooting from an extreme angle, the subject is not grotesquely distorted. Instead, we have created a feeling of childlike wonder and audaciousness, while also emphasizing the size and scale difference of the steering wheel in proportion to the child.
A moderately wide-angle lens is great for conveying a sense of movement, as well. The key is to work ‘with’ the lens, not against it. In this image, I waited until the boy swung towards the camera to click. Because I was shooting from a low angle, I knew the center of the image would ‘bow’ outwards, and therefore emphasize the swinging motion.
Wide-angle lenses are fantastic for exaggerating size and proportion. In this image, the girl appears to be much higher off the ground than she actually is.
You need not have an ultra wide lens to achieve a bit of whimsy in your imagery. These shots were all taken with a 20mm prime lens on a Nikon D70, which has a DX sensor, thus effectively rendering that lens into a 35mm.
I just love FEET!
Remember, the closer you are to the subject, the more obvious any distortion will be. Whatever body part is closest to the camera will appear bigger.
Creating a sense of depth in images you wish to ‘tell a story’ with is easy to do with a moderately wide lens. Wedding photographers often use this technique. This photo taken by Jennifer Esperanza illustrates my point beautifully.
The ‘actual’ photographer of this image is shooting from a high perspective with regard to the subject in the foreground and is able to get all of the scene in. We get a real sense of the setting in this image and it is a great visual story. Notice how the door, which is near the center of the image, appears to slightly ‘bow’ outwards. That is EXACTLY what I love about wide angle lenses, that fractured ‘Alice through the looking glass’ feel.
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