World in wide-angle: Capture stunning images with ultra-wide lenses

World in wide-angle: Capture stunning images with ultra-wide lenses
(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Wide-angle lenses can open up many opportunities for incredible perspectives of landscape scenes, interiors and even portraits, if used with care. This type of optic provides a wide angle of view, often measured across the diagonal, meaning a large proportion of a scene can be captured in a single frame. 

While this has many advantages, though, when using an ultra-wide lens for the first time, many photographers find themselves unhappy with the results. Even seasoned professionals can encounter difficulties with the new breed of ultra-wide, full-frame optics, now available as wide as 12mm, offering an angle of view of around 120°. 

• Read more: Best ultra wide-angle lenses

These usually stem from the underestimation of just how much detail can be recorded around the periphery of the frame, resulting in too many distracting elements being incorporated into the composition. There are more subtle, and arguably more challenging issues to overcome however. 

Empty middle ground: While a common problem with ultrawide images is an empty foreground, more insidious is a bland middle ground. The middle of this frame is boring and ugly.  (Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Detail distribution: With ultrawide optics it is vital to make the most of the stretched perspective, by using it to show depth and fill each area of the frame with engaging detail.  (Image credit: Peter Fenech)

As perspective is stretched, too much mid-ground detail can be revealed – or, more troublesome, large expanses of empty space can be created in the center and bottom of the frame. This creates an imbalance of detail, reducing the impact of each scene element. 

Here we take a closer look at how to create a wide-angle workflow, which can be applied to any scene type, to avoid these common mistakes…

Assess the scene

(Image credit: Future)

Before setting up your tripod, explore the setting to assess the distances between objects and work out how these might look when stretched by your widest focal length. Beware of mid-ground low frequency detail.

Select your height

(Image credit: Future)

Err on the side of a lower camera level, as this will make more of a feature of foreground elements, creating the characteristic wide-angle depth while obscuring any extraneous or distracting mid-ground presences.  

Best tripods

Check frame edges

(Image credit: Future)

Explore the periphery of the viewfinder or rear screen to ensure that there is no empty space, either at the sides or the top and bottom of the frame. Also ensure that the stretching effect does not 'bleed' detail (such as the vegetation in our shot) out of the frame.

Zoom 1mm 

(Image credit: Future)

Sometimes a single millimeter of focal length can make the difference between balance and unsightly blank space. Use the widest setting to find your angle and then push in by 1mm to see what effect this has. 

Vary your orientation

(Image credit: Future)

Flip into portrait orientation if shooting in landscape, and vice versa, to explore the compositional possibilities. Vertical frames will exaggerate foreground dominance if there is limited interest horizontally. 

Shake up subject distance 

(Image credit: Future)

Ensure that there is good detail at the bottom of the frame by moving the camera in as close as possible to foreground elements. At best this will balance the entire frame, at worst it will make more of leading lines. 

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Peter Fenech

As the Editor for  Digital Photographer magazine, Peter is a specialist in camera tutorials and creative projects to help you get the most out of your camera, lens, tripod, filters, gimbal, lighting and other imaging equipment.

After cutting his teeth working in retail for camera specialists like Jessops, he has spent 11 years as a photography journalist and freelance writer – and he is a Getty Images-registered photographer, to boot.

No matter what you want to shoot, Peter can help you sharpen your skills and elevate your ability, whether it’s taking portraits, capturing landscapes, shooting architecture, creating macro and still life, photographing action… he can help you learn and improve.