The photographer’s bag is often full of tools and lenses essential for carrying out his daily work.
Among the various lenses that should never be lacking in the photographer’s equipment, there is, without a doubt, the wide-angle lens, a fundamental ally for many shots, even if there are many who, approaching this world, underestimate its potential and its uses.
It can be considered the ace in the hole for the photographer who wants to amaze and create particular and suggestive shots, both in the landscape and portraiture field even if, it must be said, it takes a lot of experience to learn how to use it in the best way, but with a little of practically nothing is impossible.
Let’s see, therefore, what the wide-angle lens is, making an overview of its peculiar characteristics and its potential.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE WIDE-ANGLE LENS FOR BEGINNERS
The main feature of the wide-angle lens, which differs it from all other known lenses, is inherent in its focal length which, in fact, is shorter than traditional ones.
The focal length is the distance between the optical center of the reference lens and the sensor therefore, in this specific case, lenses in which this length is less than 50 mm are generally considered to be wide-angle.
It should then be specified that there are important differences in modern cameras, because a 50 mm is already wide-angle only in 35 mm or full-frame, full-frame cameras, while in all other cases it is necessary to go below this measure to find a wide-angle proper.
In cameras with APS lenses, for example, it is necessary to multiply the focal length by the coefficient of about 1.5 (or 2x in the case of Micro 4/3 cameras) to obtain the effective focal length.
HOW TO KNOW IF A LENS IS WIDE-ANGLE?
Quite simply, this length is indicated by each manufacturer on the lens itself and is therefore easy to identify.
Having made this necessary technical premise on the wide-angle lens, we need to understand how it works.
Although it is often ignored by novice photographers, paradoxically it is considered essential by professionals for one simple reason: it is the lens that best approaches the perception of the human eye in the overall vision of photographic composition.
What is the motivation that drives a person to approach the world of photography?
Basically, it is the idea of photographing what is around her, what she sees: therefore, for this reason, this lens is the one that serves this final purpose better than the others.
However, we still need to go into more specifics to understand the characteristics of wide-angle lenses.
The reduced space between the sensor and the optical center of this lens, in fact, has among the main effects that of dilating the distances: what does this mean? It means that objects shot with a wide-angle lens appear much more distant than they really are, unlike telephoto lenses.
THE PERSPECTIVE IN WIDE-ANGLE PHOTOS
This feature teases the imagination of the photographer who can play on the rendering of his images, emphasizing one of the elements that, most of all, affect the composition and the final result of a photograph: perspective.
A wide-angle lens, in fact, is able to enhance the perspective aspect: if it is true, as it is true, that the perspective derives from the distance of the observer from the observed subject, it is also true that one cannot fail to consider what is the perception of the human eye, easily deceived.
Taking advantage of the perspective games, the photographer is able to create images in which he is able to effectively enhance the foreground subject by further distancing the secondary planes: not only for portraits but also in landscape photography this feature can be exploited in favor. of the photographer for an effective perspective rendering.
However, we will talk about specific uses in photography later.
THE FIELD ANGLE IN WIDE-ANGLE PHOTOGRAPHY
In addition to the perspective, therefore to the perception of the distance of the elements of the composition from the shooting point, the other element on which the wide-angle acts is the angle of view, that is the width of the scene shot.
This is what we previously referred to when we said that the wide-angle lens is the one that comes closest to the perception of the field of the human eye but, obviously, in the large family of lenses with focal lengths below 50 mm. , there are many visual differences.
Lenses from 50mm to 20mm are called wide-angle but, below this focal length, they are often referred to as ultra wide-angle.
Obviously, taking into consideration what has been said up to now, it is evident that the shorter the focal length, the greater the angle of view and the more exaggerated the perspective.
But focusing on the angle of view, it is clear how by reducing the focal length the visual horizon appears wider and this is an element loved by photographers: those looking for a lens that has more or less the same angle of view as the human eye, therefore approximately 75 °, choose a lens with a focal length of 28mm.
From this focal length onwards, images with very open horizons are obtained as in the case of the 15 mm lens, therefore almost half of the one with the characteristics most similar to human perception, which reaches an angle of 110 °, very much more than what the human eye can see without moving from one side to the other.
This aspect is in some cases limiting for the photographic yield, especially in less experienced photographers, still unable to manage the overall composition with a wide-angle lens and therefore inserting disturbing elements in the resulting image that distract attention from what it is. instead, the subject of the image.
These are details, inconveniences that are solved with practice and exercise.
DEPTH OF FIELD AND FOCUS fOR Wide angle lens photography
In addition to the angle, the depth of field is one of the elements characterizing the wide-angle lens (here you can find an article where I talk about it specifically).
All lenses with a focal length of less than 50 mm always give the perception of an increased depth of field thanks to the reduced focal length.
One of the advantages of this peculiarity concerns the focus because with such an exaggerated depth of field the photographer is able to obtain the focus of all the elements of the composition, from the foreground to infinity.
It is therefore easy to understand how, with a lens like this, it is much easier to calibrate the focus of all the elements present in the composition, unlike telephoto lenses in which, instead, it is necessary to make a choice on the subject to enhance and to put. in focus leaving the others with a more or less desired blur.
WIDE-ANGLE PHOTO. DISTORTION OF LINES
The images taken with wide-angle lenses can be recognized by a particularly evident detail: the oblique lines.
It will have happened to everyone, in fact, to see beautiful photographs in which the oblique lines all tend to join in a single point.
This aspect is particularly important when you want to draw the attention of the human eye to a particular detail in the photograph.
In fact, thanks to the perspective element mentioned above, when in the composition there are lines that are not parallel to the objectives, these always tend to converge towards the vanishing point and give greater depth to the image.
However, we must pay attention to the falling lines, that is to the real distortions that have nothing to do with the convergence and the oblique lines.
In fact, often, when you tilt the camera down or up, the lines tend to distort: take in the case in which, with a wide-angle, you try to shoot a building at full height.
Usually, we position ourselves below and point upwards but if the camera is not perfectly vertical, this causes the effect of falling lines which in some cases can be easily corrected with a normal photo-retouching program.
ADVANTAGES AND DEFECTS OF A WIDE-ANGLE LENS
The wide-angle lens, therefore, in the light of what has been explained up to now, has rather interesting characteristics for the photographer, but among the many advantages it has, it inevitably also hides small defects, absolutely manageable with experience and with the cunning that is acquired over time, with use.
Let’s see first, therefore, what are the 3 main advantages of this objective:
It can be used on many occasions for the realization of the most varied photographs, taking advantage of its peculiar characteristics.
Needless to deny, this is also an aspect that the photographer considers fundamental for the choice of his photographic equipment.
The wide-angle lens has a small size, is easy to carry, and not cluttered, unlike other lenses, so it can always be placed in your bag and you don’t have to give it up to make room for something else.
It also makes the car less visible, and when shooting on the street this is a considerable advantage.
EMPHASIZATION OF IMAGES
With the wide-angle you can build shots of great aesthetic impact by exploiting the depth of field and the increased shooting angle.
These three advantages, enclose the essence of wide-angle photography, allow the photographer to play with the images, and offer those who will look at his photos an alternative point of view on the world and on reality.
Having the possibility of wandering and working with the imagination is perhaps the greatest advantage a photographer can find in a lens.
Having made this quick overview of the advantages of the wide-angle lens, the 3 main defects cannot be missing:
This is considered one of the biggest drawbacks of these lenses, which tend to excessively darken the corners of the image. It is a structural defect that cannot be eliminated, particularly marked in the cheaper models: there is no system to remove it during the shooting phase, you can only act in post-production.
EFFETTO LENS FLARE
Here is another example of a defect related to the construction of these short focal length lenses. With such a wide-angle of view, in fact, it is often inevitable that the sun enters the frame and, therefore, hits the sensor directly, causing the lens-flare effect.
This problem can be overcome by using a lens hood but given the wide-angle of the lens, it cannot be particularly long and the sun still risks entering.
INCOMPATIBILITY WITH THE POLARIZER
There are photographers who cannot ignore the use of the polarizer, especially in outdoor shots and with a certain light. Unfortunately the wide-angle is not suitable for the use of this support, since, again with reference to the wide-angle of view, the sides have a different incidence than the central part.
For the polarizer to perform its function at its best, it must be oriented at 90 degrees with respect to the sun’s rays, but the conformation of the wide-angle prevents uniformity across the entire lens. Below 20 mm, therefore, it is always better to avoid it to avoid light effects that are not exactly pleasant.
These are all defects that can be easily circumvented with a little more work, which do not in any way undermine the exceptional characteristics of this type of lens.
WHEN TO USE IT AND WHEN NOT TO USE IT
The wide-angle lens finds its maximum expression in landscape photography. It is the area in which it is most used because of the wide-angle of view and the increased depth of field, characteristics that lend themselves perfectly to outdoor shots.
Its most obvious use is, landscape photographers can do without any other lens if they know they have a good wide-angle in their bag.
Architectural photography also uses wide-angle lenses on a large scale thanks to its qualities on perspective perception and on the angle of view: in this case, it takes much more skill to avoid falling lines, but when you get the right confidence with the instrument, the vanishing points and the oblique lines can give great satisfaction.
The wide-angle has its own reason, as long as it is not used for too close shots that cause aesthetically unpleasant distortions: big noses and increased distance between the eyes are the two most frequent drawbacks, but the good photographer has the ability to exploit this too. lens for extraordinary portraits, at a safe distance from the subject.
Needless to say, given the wide-angle of view, the wide-angle lens is perfect for group photos, for street photography, and for all those occasions in which it is necessary that many people and the context are included in the frame. hosts them, also thanks to the speed of focusing.
The wide-angle lens, however, is absolutely not to be recommended for fast sports photography because it does not allow you to grasp the detail and the extraordinary nature of the particular. It is not even suitable for photographing monuments, especially in the more extreme versions. This is always in general, there will certainly be exceptions.
In general, always remember that the family of wide-angle lenses includes various optics from 50 mm down, it is up to the photographer’s perception and his ability to read situations to identify the best use of the lens and predict its behavior in each situation.
It goes without saying, in fact, that the distortion caused by a 35 mm lens in a portrait is undoubtedly lower, and often not even evident, compared to that caused by a 6 mm lens which, on the other hand, is strongly discouraged in the realization of portraits.
Every photographer knows his work tool, knows how to behave, and also knows how to have fun in the extraordinary game of perspectives and plays of light that creates a wide angle.
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