Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wide Angle Wednesday

In my last post, I mentioned how you might use a telephoto focal length to shoot a portrait of a person. It's usually a great idea.

Don't think I don't love wide-angle lenses, however. Again, of course, you have to work purposefully to use them well. Here's my main tip: don't leave your wide angle lens trying to do the thinking for you. If you just point it without using your eyes and brain, its main characteristic is that it will just lump everything together into a jumble. Sometimes, by chance, a fantastic jumble. More often, a confused jumble. It will include objects near and far, and without much relationship between these objects.

To use it at its most photographic, think flat or think deep.

The shot above -- just a snap from my iPhone from Tuesday, nothing special -- is about thinking flat. It's two large elements in relationship to each other. There's no jumbled confusion because the image has been conceived as a flat space. The relationship is "this shape against that shape." What's left out of the shot is more important than what's in.

An even more exciting way to use a wide-angle lens is take advantage of its depiction of space and get something in the foreground in relation to the rest of the image. That's really an idea that should be in your mind as soon as you move to wide focal lengths. Let something close fight with the large background. Put a person close to you and the space they exist in behind. Put an object close by and some sort of opposition behind. Let a visual story develop: this against that. Let the wide field of view show more than we're used to seeing (a repeated pattern, an overwhelming amount of something, a vast space) and give us a close element to make that pattern / space / aggregation seem even vaster.

Don't think of your widest lens as a way to "get everyone in the picture." Think of it as a way to depict depth.

One last note: play with what happens when you tilt the lens down. If you study some of the Garry Winogrand street photographs you'll find that he often used the strategy of getting right up to a person, using a wide focal length, and tilting the lens down a little. That puts the viewer right into the photographic subject's space -- a feeling quite different than that provided by the "normal" lens of Henri Cartier-Bresson's street photos.

No comments: