How to Use a Wide-Angle Lens: An Easy Guide

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If you know what you’re doing with it, a wide-angle lens can produce some truly stunning results. With even a small amount of experience, sweeping landscapes and sprawling city skylines can soon be yours to capture as you see fit. If you’re wondering how to use a wide-angle lens then you’ve come to the right place.

On this page, we’ll run through the key factors that set this type of lens apart. We’ll also discuss how best to use them if you’re new to all this. Read on to learn more.

What do Wide-Angle Lenses Do? An Introduction

The first thing to mention is that you shouldn’t be intimidated by all the different terms and equipment involved with this hobby. We know it can seem daunting but trust us – it’s not rocket science. Just a small amount of reading can quickly get you up to speed.

In this section, we’ll explore what wide-angle lenses do and the key features that set them apart.

Tonnes of Room

You’ve probably guessed this one already, but wide-angle lenses have much more room to fit your subject(s) into frame. Expect wide, stretching landscape photos and tall, high-reaching portraits. There are a few things to pay attention to with these lenses to ensure you get the best final result.

Read on to learn what to focus on.

Unique Compositions

This type of lens comes with some inevitable distortions. When implemented correctly, however, this can result in some truly stunning images. It’s all about making the right choices when taking photos. After a bit of practice, a wide-angle setup can serve you very well.

Quite Forgiving

At least when it comes to vertical and horizontal space, these lenses can be quite forgiving. If you have a reasonable camera and a decent grasp of good editing software, you’ll have a larger margin for error with a wide angle lens – cropping, for example, can help you cut out a fair few errors.

This can be especially useful when it comes to elements toward the edge of your frame.

Barrel Distortion

Image

This brings us neatly on to one of the main issues newbies encounter when shooting with a wide-angle lens – barrel distortion. In short, barrel distortion is an optical effect that warps the shape of your scene in the direction of, well, a barrel.

It’s particularly noticeable toward the edges of your frame and is a common feature of wide-angle and some telephoto lenses. Does it mean that every photo you take will have an obvious ‘barrel effect?’. No. However, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Subjects with hard lines can be tricky if they’re near the edge of your frame
  • Curves, borders, and hard shapes can all be thrown ‘out of whack’ if you’re not careful

Magnification Woes

If you’ve never used a wide-angle lens before, one of the first things that stands out when you first take a photo is how ‘other worldly’ their perspective can be. Subjects close to your lens will appear much larger than they do in real life. If you’re going for true-to-life representation, a wide-angle product might not be the best choice.

The great thing about this kind of lens is that their width lets you get super close to the things you’re shooting. It’s just important to keep in mind that you’ll be dealing with a different perspective than you may be used to.

Using a Wide-Angle Lens – Our Tips

So, we’ve now touched on some of the main features that set wide-angle products apart. Let’s dive into how you actually take photos with the things! This section will explore our top tips for staying at the top of your wide-angle photography game. Read on to learn more.

Take Advantage of all that Space

Before you opt for a wide-angle approach, it’s a good idea to consider whether it’s the best choice for your subject. You’ll be shooting with a ton of vertical and horizontal space. This can be just what you need in the right context, but it’s important to make sure you can actually take advantage of all the extra room.

A poorly composed wide-angle photo can quickly look empty or unbalanced. Think about what you’re shooting and how you’re going to highlight its beauty in a wider format.

Remember that taking advantage of your full field of view doesn’t have to mean cramming a ton of stuff into the scene. Negative space can make for a beautiful photo too.

This photo is a great example of what we mean when we’re talking about negative space. There’s just one blade of grass in this wide-angle photo, but we think the end result is spectacular.

Watch Out for Your Frame Edges

As established earlier, barrel distortion can easily trip you up if you’re just starting out. The edges of your frame should be treated with caution when you first start to think about composition. Are there lots of straight lines or distinct shapes in your scene? Which elements are toward the edge of your frame?

Will their appearance be ‘blown out’ or warped by a wide-angle shot? Asking yourself these kinds of questions early on can save you a lot of headache down the line. At the end of the day, it’s all about experience. The more photos and subjects you’ve tackled with a wide-angle, the easier it will be to get the results you’re looking for.

Lean Into the Format

Understanding the nature and limitations of these lenses can give you the power to take full advantage of them. When possible, it can be a great idea to lean into the natural distortion that a wide-angle shooter can cause.

Let’s say you’re capturing something with gorgeous concentric shapes or are going for an other-worldly feel for your photograph – these are both great examples of when wide-angle can be the best way to go. Instead of trying to hide the barrel shape that these products cause, learn how to make it shine!

Choose Your Subjects Wisely

Shooting in a huge space? Trying to capture a subject that’s miles away? It’s probably best to reconsider your lens choice. This is basically the first step in taking full advantage of your gear. The wide-angle format is probably a reasonable choice if any of the following apply to your scene:

  • It needs plenty of horizontal and vertical space
  • You’re shooting fairly close to your subject
  • You don’t mind an ‘inaccurate’ representation of size

Otherwise, it might be best to go with another option. This all gets much easier with practice. Our main advice is to take as many photos with your equipment as you possibly can. You’ll soon learn what works best and when.

Get in Close

In our opinion, wide-angle lenses are at their best when you’re nice and close to your subject. Depending on your chosen scene, this format can really make certain subjects sing. Photos of crashing ocean waves are one great example of this. Once you’ve moved closer to the water, you’ll be able to capture it in all its glory.

If you’re happy to ‘blow up’ something to larger-than-life proportions, a wide-angle lens can help you get much closer than you’d otherwise be able to. The results can really pay off with a little practice.

Lock in on Your Subject

Whether you’re shooting a huge landscape shot or capturing the crazy details of a skyscraper, it’s important to know exactly what you’re trying to highlight with your photo. What do you want the viewer to see first? Where should their eyes be drawn?

These kinds of questions are relevant no matter what kind of equipment you’re using, but they’re especially critical when using a wide-angle setup. You’ll have such a wide FOV at your disposal that it can be very easy for things to get lost.

Pick your scene wisely and then be crystal clear on which element(s) you want to draw attention to.

Looking to improve your composition skills? Check out our guide here.

Our Favorite Wide-Angle Subjects

We hope our tips so far have been helpful. While photography can seem like a super daunting hobby to the uninitiated, anyone can get into it with just a bit of practice. That’s why we made this section to outline some of our favorite subjects for wide-angle lenses.

The only way to truly improve as a photographer is to use your equipment as often as possible. Read through our subject suggestions below and then get out there and put what you’ve learned into practice.

Street Photography

In the right contexts, the wide-angle format can be perfect for street photography, especially if you don’t mind a little distortion when it comes to the straight lines and shapes found in most buildings. Find a few areas near where you live with large, high-reaching buildings.

Use your wide-angle lens and experiment with how you can fit everything into frame. Play with leaning into the barrel effect and see how you can use it to your advantage as mentioned earlier. If you’re shooting at night, just make sure your equipment has an ISO range robust enough to handle your lighting conditions.

Nature Photography

The great outdoors is one of our absolute favorite things to capture with a wide-angle setup. If you’re taking photos of sweeping landscapes, lush fields, or anything similar, the format should serve you very well. If you’re within travel distance of the countryside, choose a day to go exploring and practice with your gear.

The one thing we want to flag up is that a wide-angle lens probably isn’t the best idea if you’re planning on shooting a moving subject. Skittish deer and other animals are best captured with a telephoto product.

Curved Lines

It might be best to try this one once you’ve got a few simpler shoots under your belt. Don’t be put off though – you’ll get the hang of this one as well. As mentioned earlier, the barrel effect of wide-angle lenses can be used to your advantage if you know what you’re doing.

Subjects with concentric circles and curved lines (like the image above) can benefit immensely from a well-implemented wide-angle setup. The ‘warped’ result can lend a really interesting quality to your photos. Keep an eye out for a suitable subject when walking around your hometown.

Once you spot something that piques your interest, grab your gear and get shooting!

Cramped Spaces

The next time you’re in a car or cramped environment, experiment with your wide-angle product. You might be surprised by how much you can fit into frame from such a short distance. Experiment with your composition and framing and pay attention to what garners the results you’re looking for.

Town markets and corridors can be great candidates for wide-angle shooting. It’s all about getting out there and seeing what works for you.

Wide-Angle Lense Uses – Conclusion

We wanted to leave you with this awesome tutorial from Photography Life on YouTube. It serves as an excellent introduction to this kind of lens work if you’re still unsure how to get started.

If you remember one thing from this article, it’s that practice makes perfect. We know it’s a cliche but trust us – it’s true. The more often you can get out there and actually use your equipment (in different environments, mind you), the easier it will be to grow as a photographer. There’s no substitute for real-world experience.

Be sure to check out the rest of this site for more insights, guides, and how-tos on everything photography. We’re obsessed with the hobby and want to make it as accessible as possible to everyone. Whatever your experience level, equipment, or goals – you’re welcome here. Happy clicking!