Close-Up Wide-Angle

Armed with a Sigma 10-20mm lens on a Nikon D7100 DSLR, we explore the ins and outs of this dynamic compositional technique
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Not every subject lends itself to the ultrawide perspective, of course. With the Sigma 10-20mm at 20mm, this photo has more depth than if it had been photographed with a normal or telephoto lens (which would have created some foreshortening), but it has very little wide-angle distortion. Keeping the camera level also minimizes any distortion.

 

Wide-angle zooms have always been popular with nature photographers. When you venture into the ultrawide arena, a new world of opportunities opens up. Ultrawide zooms typically span the 15-35mm range, meaning they can go from very wide to a slightly wide-of-normal perspective. That's a lot of versatility in one lens. In this article, we're using the Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC to show some of the compositional options in this range. The Sigma lens is designed for APS-C DSLRs. These cameras have a magnification factor of 1.5x or 1.6x, depending on the manufacturer, which gives the Sigma 10-20mm an apparent field of view that's similar to a 15-16mm to 30-32mm lens on a full-frame DSLR. That translates to a range that's ultrawide to slightly wide. When you get wider than this range, you're usually entering into the realm of fisheye lenses, which usually exhibit extreme distortion.

At the wide end, the Sigma 10-20mm can get to 9.4 inches from the subject, which gives you some nice compositional options. Too many nature photographers think of the wide-angle lens as a good way to capture a wide angle of view. It's when you start to get close in at that wide angle that photos can become much more dynamic.

 

In this sequence, we show an unremarkable landscape scene. The first image does a fine job of capturing the vista. The bush in the center of the photo is somewhat more interesting than the overall scene. Moving closer and shifting from the 20mm end of the range to 10mm, we hone in on this feature as the main subject. The ultrawide distortion gives the subject dimension and depth. Of course, as you get closer, even with a very wide-angle perspective, you still have to be careful to have sufficient depth of field. It's easy to get complacent because you can carry a lot of depth of field at a reasonably wide aperture, but when your subject is close to the lens, you have to pay attention.

Shooting a backlit scene at a wide angle helps you keep the sun very small. Here, the spindly shape of a scrub oak in Southern California's Malibu Canyon is on display from top to bottom. The lens was set at 16mm, and the camera was positioned so that the sun barely peeked out from behind a branch. Getting in close and aiming the camera created the arching effect of the branches and foliage at the top of the frame.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

 

Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC
We used the Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC lens for this article. An extremely versatile optic, it's designed for use on DSLRs with APS-C image sensors. With an angle of view of 102.4º at 10mm and 63.8º at 20mm, it's characterized as an ultrawide-angle to slight wide-angle zoom, which means that it can be used to create dramatic wide-angle distortion or almost none at all. The minimum focus distance of 9.4 inches allows you to get up close to a subject if you want to experiment with dramatic close-up effects. The lens features aspherical elements for improved performance and sharpness; it's internally focusing so it doesn't change dimensions as you focus, and it has the Sigma EX finish, denoting "superior build and optical quality." It takes a 77mm filter, and it weighs 16.4 ounces. The lens is available for Sigma, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax and Four Thirds cameras (HSM is unavailable in Sony and Pentax mounts). Estimated Street Price: $429.
Contact: Sigma, www.sigmaphoto.com.

 

Backlight and sidelight almost always make dull foliage come to life. Think about photos of aspen leaves at the height of fall color. When backlit, their yellow leaves are alive with luminosity. Even less dramatic subjects can benefit from backlight and sidelight. Taking advantage of the 10mm end of the Sigma's focal range, this scene has depth, and the main subject is transformed from mundane to an interesting study in shape and light. Unfortunately, the shot is ruined by the annoying flare at the bottom of the frame. When you're shooting at a very wide angle, it's easy to get a bad flare like this one when the sun is just out of the frame. A lens shade can help, but it doesn't always fully protect you.

Here, the same subject was photographed, but this time with a hat shading the lens (and just out of the frame) to prevent the flare. With the many elements and the wide angle of view, wide-angle lenses can generate a lot of flare in an image. Some photographers like the effect, and it's definitely something you can experiment with creatively. Filmmaker J.J. Abrams, for example, has a reputation for adding a lot of flare effects in the CGI effects in his science-fiction movies. In the case of these two images, however, there's no question that the image without the flare is superior.

7 Comments

    Thanks for the very informative article. The wide angle lens for me is the most difficult to tame. I quit using mine because I didn’t get results that impressed me or my friends. They just didn’t have the punch I was looking for. I’ll try the techniques you mention and see if I change my mind about this group of lenses.

    Rob, Thanks for sharing, great article, but I’d like to know more details about how you consistently obtain foreground to background sharp focus with close-ups like this. I’ve been having some difficulties with similar shots, whether shooting my 17-40 zoom or my 24mm prime. I usually use live-view at narrow depths of field (16-22), focusing at approximately 1/3 of the way into the shot, but sometimes experience defraction, resulting in less-than-sharp images. Could you possible explain in more detail just what your camera settings are, where in an image is your focus point, what f-stop(s) you usually shoot at, etc. The only way I’ve been able to guarantee focus throughout an entire close-up landscape image is to take several shots and combine them with a software program such as Helicon Focus; do you use a similar technique or are all your close-ups done with one click?

    I agree with Richard, I was hoping your article was more about camera settings. I look forward to your next installment of this topic. Yesterday I ordered a wide angle lens and can’t wait to apply your advice! Thank you.

    I’m an amateur, but remember Richard Ansley: at shorter focal lengths, even a fairly low aperature (low f-stop number with a large opening in the lens) will give better depth of field than a longer focal length lens. With your mid and long zooms, you need to stop down to 16-22 f-stop like you stated to get good depth of field; with these wide lenses, you just don’t need to go that far. Try an aperature MUCH more in the middle of the lenses capability (8-11 I’m guessing) and see what you get. In short, I think you’re stopping down too far with such a wide lens and it’s creating part of your issue.

    Thanks for sharing the wonder full insight into your perspective of wide angle photography. But I too would like to Know how to keep closest part of flower/subject tack sharp without compromising depth for far object. Tech info about focusing and aperture would help us a lot.
    Thanks

    I really like the look of the wide angle used close up and have tried it rather unsuccessfully to date. But my biggest problem is with the sky. In order to get the deep blue shown in many of Rob’s images, I used to use a polarizer. But the sweep of a wide angle produces a blue sky that changes intensity dramatically as the angle deviates from 90 degrees to the sun. I’d like to know how to lick that problem.

    Use a graduated neutral density filter to properly expose the sky and the foreground. There are quite a few option, Lee Filter and Singh-Ray are the most common. Although, shooting in Raw, you could easily do the same thing with most editing software.

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