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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Seventy: How to use super wideangle lenses effectively tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Seventy: How to use super wideangle lenses effectively

For many years, wideangle lenses embraced a view about twice as wide as the human eye can encompass. The lower the numerical designation of a lens, the wider it becomes. The so-called “normal” lens, which sees as the eye sees, is called a “50mm lens.” Thus standard wideangle focal lengths become 28mm and 24mm. However, the last few years have seen a revolution in camera optics, with the advent of wideangle zoom lenses that can embrace up to four times as much content as the human eye can see at one time. These lenses, which may offer such focal lengths as 14mm, 16mm, 18mm, and 20mm, are called super wideangle zooms. I recently added such a lens to my Panasonic G1 system, and began extensively using it for the first time in the field on a trip through the Pacific Northwest. I quickly saw that such lenses require greater thought and skill than any other lens I’ve used to date. There is a learning curve, and it takes time and practice to grasp it.

The most important factor in expressive wideangle photography is selectivity. We must be able to isolate the subject, simplify it through abstraction, and relate it to only essential context. It is very difficult to make a super wideangle lens see selectively. Its frame encompasses so much, such as empty skies, cluttered foregrounds or backgrounds. It also keeps everything in sharp focus, which encourages random mergers and chaotic images. To avoid such problems, we are forced to move very close to our subject, yet when we come that close with such a super wideangle lens, it is easy to create unwanted distortion. To combat such distortion, we must hold a super wideangle lens at right angles to the subject. The slightest tilt can make our images look like a scene from a fun-house mirror. On the other hand, there are times when such deliberate wideangle distortion can offer a powerful tool for expression.

Super wideangle lenses offer three major advantages over standard wideangles. We can embrace very large subjects without having to back up, which can diminish their importance. We can create dramatically expressive subject/context relationships in terms of scale. And we can work in very close quarters -- places where there may be no room to back up -- and still fit a spacious subject into the frame. This gallery will demonstrate all of these advantages, as well as show you how to use wideangle distortion as an expressive tool. I hope to continue to add thought provoking examples of super wideangle photography as I use this lens on future shoots. (I will also continue to add examples of standard wideangle photography to Gallery Twenty, which shows you how to control perspective with the standard wideangle focal lengths.)

I present this gallery, as usual, in "blog" style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see it in its full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions, and will be delighted to respond.