Wide Angle Wonders

Written by stuestler on June 16th, 2009

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

During my Kentucky trip, the question came up about wide angle and ultra-wide angle lenses. As I mentioned in the last update, some shots require as long a lens as possible – and sometimes that’s still not enough.



I do lots of shooting with wide angles in my work, and because of that I’ve become used to seeing the “wide view”, and tend to favor the wide angle look in a lot of my personal work.


One thing wide angles don’t do well is individual portraits. In order to fill the frame it’s necessary to get close in to the subject, and at close distances wide angles will create all sorts of distortion – especially to faces! Not very flattering.


On the other hand, for shots of larger groups, and especially large groups in tight spaces, wide angles are the answer. Since you’re shooting at a more normal distance, each individual is not as close to the lens, and distortion is minimal or not an issue.


Wides, and especially ultra-wides, are essential in shooting interiors when you want to capture the entire space. And they can be great for sweeping landscapes too.  The key to using wide angle lenses without getting weird distortions is not to have any part of the subject too close to the lens.


However, in art, and that includes photography, there are no hard, fast rules, and sometimes using the distortion effect from wide angles creates an unusual, interesting viewpoint.


Take a look at these photos of the sculptures at Lexington’s Thoroughbred Park, a small fountain and sculpture area on a downtown corner. The opening photo above was taken with a 16mm (equivalent) lens.


Just a quick mention of equivalent focal lengths. Even though digital has become the standard for photography, there are numerous digital sensor sizes, and one factor that determines whether a specific focal length lens will give a wide, normal or telephoto field of view is the relationship to the size of the sensor.


There’s a lot more to it, and I’ll go more into depth on that another time, but for now it’s enough to know that relative focal lengths are still quoted as the equivalent field of view to a 35mm frame (or a “full-frame” digital sensor, which is the same dimensions as 35mm film).

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler






Anyway, back to the horses. While walking up to the sculptures, I took this overall view from behind the fountain. Not very interesting composition and lots of clutter from the street behind, but it documents the site. Could still make you do a double-take if you came up on it not expecting what is there.



Since the fountain was being used as a wading pool by a number of families and small kids, I wanted to eliminate that from my composition and concentrate on the horses.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler






The first shot from in front is at normal standing height, using about a 45mm lens – within the 40-55mm “normal” range. It avoids the clutter and confusion from the waders, but the sculptures still get a little lost in the trees behind them.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler






Next, I knelt down from the same spot with the same focal-length lens, giving a different perspective and getting more sky behind the sculptures. Not a bad shot and it works pretty well.



But I wanted to really exaggerate the look and feel of the running thoroughbreds, so I chose to use the ultra-wide 16mm.


The resulting view (the opening photo above) was taken just a few feet in front of the lead horses in the sculpture, kneeling down and looking up. It accentuates the feeling of being in the middle of the track as the horses rush by (and over!) you. The distortion of the lead horses amplifies the feeling.


I’m a big fan of working a subject form all vantage points, using different lenses and compositions. Sometimes the strangest view turns out to be the most interesting!

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