25 Nov 2012

Using a wide angle lens - my experiences

Some time ago I was involved in a little discussion on G+ about advantages of using the wide angle lens. I promised the guys to share some of my experiences with using it. So here we go.

My motivation for wide-angle lens

I started using the wide angle lens for shooting landscapes, after studying some stunning photos on the Net and asking myself how people made them. And after buying my lens (Tokina 11-16/2.8 DX) I wasn't disappointed:

In parallel I also started to analyse what makes the wide-angle lens so special. Because it is not only the fact that this kind of lens enables to capture a broader area. Another important aspect are the noticeable distortions being an integral part of the wide-angle lens. Sometimes it adds something to the picture, sometimes the opposite. In the picture above the distortion is good visible in the upper part of the image and on the right side of it. Because there are the clouds and they are supposed "to flow" on the sky, the distortion emphasizes the effect, working well.
But be aware that it can work also against you:

This photo shows the so called 'ball apartments' in 's Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands. They are all, well, ball shaped. On the picture only those in the middle have the proper shape. The balls on the edges of the picture are distorted by the lens. I experienced that it is not always easy to deal with it in post processing. So be aware.

Other applications

Playing with perspective

Wide angle lens has another interesting feature: it introduces a 'perspective distortion', so the objects closer to the lens appear bigger than the objects being more distant from the lens. The relative difference in size between close and distant objects is bigger than in case of regular lens (again, due to the distortions). This trick is used quite often in architecture photography. I have also tried it:

In both examples above the physical distances between foreground and background objects were not as big as it appears in the photos. And the first plane is made more dominant by an illusion of making it bigger. Again, sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Coming closer to the subject

Because of wide-angle one has possibility to get closer to the subject and still have it fully in the frame. This is sometimes advantageous; take a look at the following picture:
When taking this picture I could come so close to the cathedral that there was nobody walking in front of me.
But you see that this technique comes with the price: the perspective distortion are much more visible with the wide angle lens than with the other ones. Even a small tilt of the camera causes the vertical lines to incline dramatically. In the picture above it works because of the character of the building, but in the picture below perspective distortions make the picture actually unacceptably malformed:

But being able to get closer can make your picture:
Just to give an impression: here the lens was placed about 0,75 m in front of the wheels (which are about 2.5 meters high). Try to do it with a regular lens.

To buy or not to buy?

Personally I think it is a good thing to have a wide-angle lens in my photo bag. It is the lens that works often as a double-edge sword, giving me something extra at cost of something else (photographing from close distance vs. perspective distortions, broaden the composition at cost of distortion in the edges). But it enriches my shooting possibilities for sure.

18 Nov 2012

Don't blame your gear, think

Christmas portrait season is started already, at least with respect to my yearly assignment I take at Polish school in Hague, The Netherlands. The idea is simple: each year I take portraits of the school pupils and the Parents Council sells the paper copies and creates in this way some extra income which is later spent by parents during organizing some attractions for children.
After some experiments done in the previous years we decided together with parents to take two photos per child: full length portrait and the close-up with upper half of the body.
The whole event is a common effort of parents, teachers and a photographer (I will write maybe later more on the logistics), now some observations about the light setup and why a photographer has to think every now and then.
The light setup is quite standard: main light is provided by Ezybox softbox at the front of the subject, the background is lit by a flash mounted on a boom arm with some help of the reflection from the ceiling. The third light source is coming from a self-made softbox providing narrow beam of light to be used as a rim light to lit one side of the subject. The picture below illustrates it. Note that the setup is not fully fine tuned yet, but the idea is already there.

Basic light setup of the portrait session
Ok, now the session. The close up portraits have been taken with a subject standing 2,5 meters away from the background, which worked nice: the subject lit by softbox and the rim light was obviously lighter than the background, nicely popping out. Just for the records: photos have been taken in Nikon iTTL mode, with background adjusted to -1.7 stops and the rim light to -1 stop.

The full length portrait was more challenging. The subject had to be placed closer to the background (to compose it better with the scenery). The challenge was to ensure the same effect as with the close-up: bright subject clearly popping up from the background. It wasn't working. Tweaking iTTL adjustments of main light, changing the background light strength, switching it off. No way.

 The easiest to blame is the gear (of course) that doesn't work, but at the end there is only one in control - a photographer.
And after giving some thoughts it was clear. The reason of 'failing' iTTL was actually the relative distance between the main light source (softbox), the subject and the background. It is just impossible for a softbox light placed 3 meters from a subject to fall off so quickly that there will be a noticeable difference between the subject (3 meters from a light source) and the background (4 meters from a source).
To deal with it the relative distances would need to be changed. How?
I have some ideas to try next week:

  • Keep the subject in the same position for both portraits, take two shots from different positions. May be difficult due to the position of the softbox that would become visible in the full-length composition
  • Bring the main and rim lights closer to the subject for a full length portrait. Would work best (probably), but the issue is that during the day I need to take 90 (x2) portraits, which is quite some amount and moving around with the light setup after each photo is rather not an option.
And thinking - yes, it always helps.