“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”Ansel Adams
In the previous article, we discussed the School of Telephoto, so it is only fitting to now to talk about the School of Wide Angle. In serious photography, there seems to be two types of photographers and they can be categorized as belonging to the School of Wide Angle or the School of Telephoto. I definitely reside in the latter. These are not formal institutions, but are more described as artistic leanings towards distinct creative preferences of one style versus the other.
Do you prefer wide angle shots or telephoto shots?
Wide angle photography is deemed to be done with lenses wider than a standard 50mm lens. The 50mm lens is said to be roughly equivalent to the same magnification of human vision. This is not a perfect analogy but it has stuck around forever, so we will make use of it here. The 50mm is the foundational focal length from which all telephoto and wide angle lenses from which all lenses are referenced. Any lens that has a lower millimetre focal length less than 50mm is said to be wide angle. But there are several subcategories of wide angle lenses.
Wide-angle lenses have three classes: wide, ultra-wide, and fish-eye.
First, we must clarify the meaning of wide angle. The most common description is that a wide angle lens displays a wider field of view than our vision. However, this does not translate directly to millimetres (mm) and degrees.
So, what focal lengths (in mm) can be considered wide angle? The popular definition is that a lens below, or equivalent to 35mm is considered a wide angle lens. This is roughly 65 degrees of diagonal field of view.
Focal lengths between 35mm and 24mm are considered standard wide angle. Between 24mm to 16mm is what we usually refer to when saying ultra wide angle. Focal lengths below 16mm are considered fisheye wide angles.
The most popular wide angle zoom range is 16-35mm. Most kit or standard zoom lenses go down to 24mm or 28mm. The widest lenses on the market are 10mm (rectilinear) and 8mm (fisheye).
Ultra wide angle lenses are those with a short focal length, commonly ranging from 14 to 35mm. The broader field of view allows you to capture more of the scene in a single exposure. Because of this, wide angle lenses are particularly popular in architecture and landscape photography.
Another one of the key features of these types of camera lenses is their ability to create a large depth of field. This allows the photographer to capture shots where most of the scene is razor sharp. On the downside, the shorter the focal length is, the more distortion you will see in your images.
Fisheye lenses are ultra, ultra wide angle lenses with a focal length between 4mm to 14mm. They are most commonly used in abstract or creative photography, as their unique mapping gives the image a convex appearance that distorts straight lines (see the cover photo of the Harvard airplane above taken with a 10mm fisheye lens). The lowest focal lengths can result in circular images that provide a 180° view.
As you might have guessed, their name comes from their similarity to fish eyes. The frontal element of the lens bows forwards to offer a panoramic view. While the singularity of this type of camera lens makes them unsuitable for most projects, they are a wonderful tool to bring your creative ideas to life.
The table below is constructed mathematically and is not reflective of any single lens make or model. Each lens design introduces variations to the angle of view and the reproduction ratio. For example, some of the fisheye lenses will provide a angle of view width of 180° wide. Check with your specific lens manufacturer for the field of view and reproduction ratio of your specific lens.
Here are three tips for using various wide angle lenses:
- Wide angle lenses are used to emphasize an element or elements in the foreground. Using wide angle lens will give you the option to go closer to your subject or to an element in the foreground. It will be easy for you to focus on or emphasize that particular object because the lens will create an effect that will make it appear larger than it really is – or closer than it actually is. As such, the objects in the background will appear smaller and therefore, less emphasized.
- Wide angle lenses are perfect for capturing scenes with interesting surroundings, This is because it allows you to; again, go close to your main subject. So what happens is that the focused object appears large, but all the other elements in its surroundings are still included in the frame. People tend to read a lot more into the images and find them expressive and interesting if done well.
- Wide angle lenses give you good depth of field. When your subject is a vast landscape, a skyscraper, or a busy street scene, a wide angle lens will allow you to take in everything – from the object nearest to you to the farthest area or element in focus. A perfect example? A photo of mountain ranges.
You can use the wide angle lens to do more than just express a physical space. By arranging the elements in your shot, you can still control where the audience looks. The viewer is free to look anywhere in your wide shot, but that does not stop you from directing the audience’s eye. By controlling these elements and their relation within the image, you push the audience towards understanding the material. The French called this staging of film subjects mise-en-scène.
Controlling the people and things in a shot can be startlingly expressive, especially when using a wide angle lens. Bringing objects very close to the lens and sending people deep into the background create whole new visual relationships. We can achieve the perspective of the wide shot while still foregrounding all of the needed detail.
By picturing our image composition as a set of relationships within a shot, we can communicate effectively and efficiently. Changing positions within a single shot tells a story of changing power and relationships. A character in the foreground in a wide angle shot looms closer, dominating everything else. Bringing different people or objects to the forefront changes our point of interest without relying on editing separate close-ups. In this way, one wide shot, planned carefully, may carry the weight of a dozen closer shots.
Wide angle photography is one of the most powerful aspects of photography. Naturally, it tends to increase the friction between you the photographer and the scene, along with the elements and objects inside the frame as we see them with our naked eye. To be more specific, it is one of the most challenging focal lengths to master, because there are several creative attributes that need to be well understood to use these lenses well.
In my personal photography, I make use of various technologies, from the newer digital Nikon D750, D850, Z7, and all of the series of Nikon film cameras from the Nikon F, F2, F3, F4, and F5, as well as Nikkormat FT. FTn, FT-2, and FT-3. The pair of Nikon F5s are a favourite film camera body and they perform very well for airshows. Some times, I shoot old school and do a whole day event in film. I have a Nikon 8000 film scanner, so I can digitize the images and finish them in the computer. Shooting film is radically different compared to shooting digitally. You slow down and become far more selective of what you capture. The optics are the same regardless of film or digital.
Personally, I find wide angle images to be too busy and rather distracting. I do not always know where to look. That is why I prefer the simplicity of telephoto photography. With telephoto photography you lead the eye and remove all of the busyness and clutter in the image. Telephoto photography calms me, whereas wide angle photography creates anxiety for me. But, that is just me. What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments to engage in a richer discussion about the PROs and CONs of wide angle versus telephoto photography.
Which school do you belong to?
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.