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Alex Hare Photography

Digital Photographer Magazine Interview
Kit, Caboodle & ReviewsNews

Nov 14th 2016

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This Q&A appeared in a recent edition of Digital Photographer Magazine, about wide angle lenses and how they sit along side other fiocal lengths in terms of what to use, when and the pros and cons of each.

1) What are the challenges of using wide-angle lenses and do people necessarily need an ultra wide lens? (i.e. it can be harder to frame a successful shot with 21mm vs 24 or 28mm sometimes

I use my wide angle lens (Canons 16-35mm L) as a creative option to have at my disposal for when a shot demands a wider angle of view.  It’s not, as some believe, only a lens for when you can’t get any further back from your subject; such as a tall building, for example.

The challenge, like any lens, is matching the subject matter and your ‘vision’ for the shot to the lens that best captures that idea.  All too often with a wide angle the elements in the scene become too  small and distant and we lose our ability to connect with the view.

I do think there’s a place for a wide angle like mine in everyone’s kit bag.  It’s about having the kit you need for the shot you settle on producing and anyone who likes bold foregrounds or wants to capture a wide scene without losing physical proximity from the subject will find it useful.  Just be careful to set your aperture and focus point correctly so you capture the front to back sharpness needed!

I don’t think it’s any harder to use than a 24mm or 28mm lens; composition can still be just as hard with these lenses, it’s a question of knowing how to use it for best effect, like any lens.

I use a wide angle it for the following reasons:

1. I can fill the foreground of my images with subject matter that is inches away from the camera, giving a strong sense of ‘being there’. 

2. I can capture interiors better-it’s closer to the (very wide) angle of view that we perceive as we look around a room, in an instant.

3. If I’m stuck in a position and can’t get further back to include all that I want, it’s a useful way of capturing a wide scene without moving your feet.

4. I can give small, enclosed spaces a greater sense of ‘space’ (as perceived by the human eye) which I can’t with narrower angle lenses.

This view across Blea Tarn required a a 16mm lens in order to fit all the foreground rocks in.  The distant landscape qwas not so far (or small) to then become lost and seem too far away to have any imapct so the lens worked well here.

2) What makes a great photo with wide angle lens?

For me, a great photo shot in wide angle will rely on a strong and simple composition.  I teach everyone on my workshops how; ‘less is more’ so packing too much into a wide scene is often a cause for failure.  For example; pick one or two rocks and make them fill your foreground, as opposed to ten or twelve that can become a bit confusing for the eye to follow through the image.

Commercial photographs have to be technically correct and aesthetic.  Here a 17mm TSE lens offered both the wide anfgle I needed to fill the foreground with a sweep of the audience and give me the composition I needed to allow for the client's text and logo to sit in the sky above.

3) What advice would you give for standard focal length lenses?

Buy the best you can afford.  Brands like Sigma and Tamron deliver optics that, in my experience, are as good as the Big Two (Nikon and Canon) but at a much cheaper rate, albeit build quality may suffer.

In terms of using them; decide on your view and composition first, then adjust the focal length to capture this as opposed to zooming in and out hoping to find inspiration!  It makes for a more measured and thoughtful approach which I’ve found improves people’s images with practice.

Shot at 24mm on a 24-70mm lens, you don't always need a wide angle to fill your foreground; often it's a case of matching the right lens to the subject in question and using it correctly to make the image work.

4) What advice would you give for telephoto lenses?

Buy one! I use these a lot for my landscape work, more than one might expect as they’re not the obvious choice for scenery.

As I said; less is more and a telephoto really helps to isolate parts of a scene and distil a wider view into a stronger and more meaningful image.  There are also certain scenes where you are limited in terms of movement-standing on the edge of a lake for example, and a telephoto can give you that extra reach to get shots that just aren’t possible with standard or wide angle lenses in those circumstances.

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