If you like to be in the middle of the action when it comes to taking photographs, the wide-angle lens is for you.
Camera manufacturers are even willing to help. When you power up your typical point-and-shoot camera, it automatically activates to its wide-angle lens position. Personally, if I had to use only one lens for the rest of my life, it would be a medium-wide-angle lens. I’ll bet that the majority of photographers use the wide end of their lens most of the time also, whether they’re aware of it or not. Here are some benefits and cautions to using wide-angle lenses.
1.) You’ll typically find the largest aperture on a zoom-lens camera set to its widest angle. A larger aperture can mean the difference between getting a correct exposure in low light or ending up with an unusable image. As you zoom out on most lenses, apertures get smaller, decreasing the amount of light entering your camera. By sticking to the wide-angle end of your lens, you take advantage of the widest aperture available to you. The bottom line is this: When you are in a low-light situation, you will always have a better chance at correct exposures at the wide-angle lens setting, not the telephoto end.
2.) While telephoto lenses increase subject magnification, they also increase possible camera shake and subject motion. Wide-angle lenses are less susceptible to this problem. They are easier for most people to hold steady at lower shutter speeds and therefore reduce camera shake. Taken together, these two wide-angle benefits — the ability to hand hold a camera at slower shutter speeds and having a larger aperture to let in more light — provides a photographer with beneficial knowledge in situations of low-light.
3.) A wide-angle lens not only takes in a broader view of a scene or subject, its expansive view also tends to be in sharper focus from foreground to distant background. This is referred to as “depth of field” or “zone of focus.” In comparison to telephoto, macro or normal lenses, wide-angle lenses have greater focus zones at all apertures. If you want sharper photos consistently, stick with wide-angle shots and take advantage of this increased zone of focus.
4.) Group shots, panoramic vistas and action in tight quarters are all subjects that demand a wide-angle lens. On the other hand, wide-angle lenses are not ideal for portraits unless you take precautions. First, don’t get too close to the subject or your wide-angle lens can distort your subject. Stepping back or zooming in a little will help.
When I use a wide-angle lens for environmental portraits, I place the subject toward the left or right side of the frame, check that the wide-angle setting is not distorting my subject, and then I incorporate the surrounding environment to add a contributing element to the image. Composing only on a face, with a wide-angle lens, can lead to some unnatural distortion and possibly scary results. While it might not be suitable for everyday photography, for tomorrow’s Halloween it just might be the best effect. So go ahead, make ’em scary.