The 35mm and 50mm are popular focal lengths because of their restrained angles-of-view that one can easily relate to and know how to work with without getting overwhelmed with the strange warped world they see through the viewfinder, that’s part of the problem with using ultra wide-angles. Shooting wider than wide – wider than 21mm – pushes things away yet pull things in closer like an indecisive lover; it distorts reality and brings loads of crap and clutter into the frame.
What’s more, decent rectilinear ultra wides are often prohibitively priced, meaning that one doesn’t buy one on a whim merely to try it out. Having said that, fortunately, there are brands like Voigtlander that create some truly stunning UWAs for a very reasonably price and have recently announced that they will be bringing their fun and thrifty optics to the Sony E-mount.
Shooting with a 15mm is quite a different experience to shooting with a 50mm, and shooting with something that wide can be a bit daunting, but if you are an ultra wide virgin, here are 10 things you can try:
1.Fill The Frame With Something Interesting
Sounds obvious, but it’s something that can be overlooked when shooting with an UWA. Looking at a scene through the lens of an UWA for the first time can be an awe-inspiring experience, being able to see so much in one frame. It’s all too easy to be enamoured by the wideness that your image ends up being a wide shot of a bit of everything but yet it’s about nothing in particular.
If you decide that you want everything in your frame, what you get is a load of small details that are probably too small that you won’t even know what they are supposed to be.
Pick what it is you find interesting, your main subject and fill the frame with it. You’re still essentially taking a photo to emphasise a point of interest. Make sure your subject features prominently enough in the frame and the inclusion of the extra, tiny details are nice accessories to the image. But there is one thing that you might have to do…
2.Get Closer…I mean, like, really close
As the famous saying goes: if your photos are bloody awful then you’re probably standing too far away. Perhaps it wasn’t as eloquently put as that, and perhaps it was said at a time when people used lenses like a 50mm.
With an ultra wide, you’ll need to stand even closer to your subject. Not just stand closer, you’ll practically have to do the tango with your subject if you want to get a decent shot. Unless you’re photographing a building – you can’t do the tango with an immovable object, obviously.
Anything that you put really close to the lens will look like it is being sucked into the corners of the frame. The size and shape will be exaggerated, which might be good to provide some foreground interest and provide context to the main image. But you have to be careful with what you put there. An UWA will mangle up human limbs and make them look like Fiddler Crabs.
So you could take an image without the subject refraining from extending any body parts towards the camera and keep some objects that won’t look so bad distorted in the foreground…
…or you could go the wild route and distort those limbs for effect.
You can even use shadows as a foreground interest. Shadows stretch out longer, which looks really wicked.
4.Mind the Backgrounds
You get a lot more things in the background, so you might want to be careful with what you frame in the backgrounds. Spend a bit of time to look at what’s in the background, does it mess with the overall aesthetic of your image? Is it too busy or too sparse?
It’s a lot harder to decide what background to include because an ultra wide will see a lot more of it. Sometimes it isn’t about picking what background to put in the frame but rather what looks fine. The amazing effect that you get from an ultra wide can also be the most prohibitive to getting good photos.
Small spaces are small. Obvious. Not when you have an ultra wide angle – it’s the estate agent’s wet dream. Tiny Hong Kong apartments can look deceptively cavernous when shooting with an UWA. But an ultra wide doesn’t have to be just for those with architectural interests. It doesn’t even have to be an indoor space, a small outdoor space with lots of detail can look cool when shot with an UWA.
6.Make Use of Leading Lines
You might get distorted shapes with an ultra wide but you do get some gorgeous lines that stretch from the corners, dramatically converging towards the centre. Placing long shapes starting from the edges, ending in the middle, look great, giving this effect that makes your eye lead to whatever is in the middle.
7.Be Careful of Things Falling Over
When you tip your lens back a bit, it will look like the world in your image is falling backwards/forwards. It’s not really desirable for buildings as such but you can use it for effect. It creates a surreal look, as your subject struts in a world that doesn’t look like the one we live in. That’s deep.
8.Shoot From The Hip
Despite what I’ve said about taking care to do this and that, there’s no need to shoot in any particular way. You can shoot from the hip if you like, and there’s always a high chance that you will get an interesting shot. You don’t literally have to hold the camera at hip height like you’re in some Spaghetti Western, just grab your camera, point it in the vague direction of your subject and shoot. It does sound a bit Lomography-esque unfortunately, but it’s surprising what you get sometimes.
If you do get an ultra wide angle lens, just go out and shoot, enjoy it, see what shots work for you and what doesn’t. It might take time to get used to figuring out how to get the best out an ultra wide angle but you can most definitely get as many amazing shots with one as you can with a 35 or 50. I have a 50, a 35 and then I have nothing in between this and a 15mm Voigtlander because if you want wide, then you might as well go properly wide.