“Before you break a rule, know how to apply it.” Let me repeat this: “Before you break a rule, know how to apply it.” Once you master the principles of composition, perspective, lens use, light, etc., you may run across circumstances where the principle just doesn’t fit. At these times, go with your gut. Break the rule, press the shutter and look at the LCD. If it looks good, run with it. In my early years of photography, I was taught to never use a wide angle in close for portraits because the distortion imparts the look of a fun house mirror. I tried it anyhow, and the look was very comical. But it got me thinking—while it didn’t work for people, what about other subjects? Ever since my first play session testing other subjects, I was hooked. I often make wide-angle close-ups.
Wide-angle lenses are used to photograph sweeping vistas or provide broad views in tight quarters. But when placed close to a subject, wides and super wides exaggerate the size of foreground elements. They loom larger in the frame and push farther elements into the distance. It’s this phenomena of exaggerated perspective that makes them so appealing. When I run a nature tour and we’re at a location where this works, I tell my participants we’re going to create “In-your-face photography.” I have everyone get low to the ground and place their camera close to the primary foreground element. Ripples in sand dunes, fields of flowers, boulder fields, ocean surf, etc., work great using this technique.
Up-close wide-angle scenics create environmental portraits of the land. They don’t have to reveal the entire area. Their primary function is to allow the viewer to see the landscape of the foreground subject. It provides a sense of place that can’t be depicted using a longer focal length lens. Size relationships are distorted, but that’s the goal. The closer you can get to the most foreground element and still maintain full depth of field, the more distorted the size relationship appears.
Maintaining focus from foreground to background is a matter of two things. Keep the foreground subject far enough away from the lens so it falls within the near focus capability. With super wides, this can be as close as a foot. To acquire necessary depth of field, stop the lens down to a small aperture, f/16 or f/22, and place the active focus point approximately one third into the photo. This roughly mimics the Hyper Focal Focusing technique. Space doesn’t allow me to go into detail about this, so Google it to learn more. For most of my in-your-face wide angles, I maximize depth of field to get every part of the image sharp. Don’t overlook making images using wide-open apertures to mix it up and try different effects. One word of caution. Because super wides allow the photographer to get very close to the subject, if it’s wet, sharp, sticky etc., be cognizant of how close you place the lens to the subject so you don’t get it wet or do damage to the subject.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.