Why shoot with an ultra-wide lens?
The greatest misconception of using an ultra-wide lens is that you want to “get everything in”. In a way it’s true & false at the same time. Think of it as a half full glass of water versus a half empty glass. Ultra-wide lenses are for getting yourself & the viewer right in the middle of something greater.
Used correctly, ultra-wides pulls the viewer & drops him right in the middle of what you are trying to document. While it looked as if the photo was taken a couple of yard back, but in actual fact but a couple of centimetres away from the subject.
This is why ultra-wides aren’t for folks who are afraid to get near. They are also one of the most difficult lenses to use well & use correctly. The challenge is always that stray distraction which creeps in from the corners which makes composition that much harder. Also you need to watch distortion especially when you tilt the lens angle downward or upward. While this create drama to your image, it’s also cliché. To create an image that is truly unique on its own is what makes owning an ultra-wide lens challenging but at the same time if you learn to master it, fulfilling.
Choosing an ultra-wide & knowing it’s limitations
Anything 24mm & less is considered an ultra-wide. The wider you go, the more distorted an image gets (when the angle is tilted)… the more vignetting occurs (darkened corners of the frame). A properly made ultra-wide will attempt to correctly these either through state-of-the-art optical build of quality or like the 5Dmk2, digital correction via the firmware of the camera paired with the lens. This feature is quite nifty on the 5Dmk2. It illuminates the corners to correct vignetting on lenses shot even wide open. Distortion can be corrected in Photoshop using the “lens correction filter” feature which you can download data from the internet based on different paired camera bodies & lenses.
For a beginner ultra-wide lens, you don’t need something that is f/1.4 or f/2.8. These are going to burn a hole through your wallet. I rarely use anything larger than f/8 on an ultra-wide. The sweet spot of such a lens is between f/8 to f/16. In low light, I use f/5.6. Any commercial branded (Canon, Nikon, Sony…etc) or so-called ‘non-branded’ (Tokina, Tamron, Sigma…etc) make good & sharp ultra-wides. Of course the Canon & Nikon versions of the ultra-wides are superior in build & quality but they also cost more especially the DX/crop-factor versions because they are that much harder to make for the smaller sensors. You can check out the many reviews on websites but generally get the one that you can afford & which has a 2nd hand demand when you wish to upgrade in the future. In fact, watch for 2nd hand deals via shutterasia.com or ftz trade!
How to use an ultra-wide
I don’t have good examples to show but this photo of a bicycle painted on the road will have to suffice.
Some folks will be happy with this shot. The sky looked… bad this afternoon so I just shot the floor lol! The motorists were puzzled why this dude in a yellow t-shirt was playing frogger with the traffic & waddling across the road to shoot the floor… hehe! I was like, hey… the bicycle looks cool & took a few snap shots. But I wasn’t all that satisfied… so I went for a couple of more rounds of frogger. Hey I got 3 lives right?
Now this was the last shot I took before I realize not to chance with fate further. I had to get real low & real near for this one. My lens was a few centimetres off the ground when I took this. Suddenly this subject, which is the bicycle got so much larger… the image is also more distorted adding drama to the image.
Look for lines
If you remember this image, I took it 2 years back in Cambodia. It’s the west bridge to Angkor Wat facing the direction of the rising sun. One thing about ultra-wides is that they flare quite often when you shoot against or diagonally towards the sun… so you need to watch your viewfinder. Remove your UV filter if things get bad otherwise a slight tilt or shift should fix the problem. In this photo, the subject is the broken slabs of stones on the floor.
Use distortion to add drama
If you point your lens upward or downward enough, you create an exaggerated distortion. Use this to your advantage when composing scenes in which you want to emphasize greatness.
When you start to shoot with ultra-wides, you will find that composition is uniquely challenging. However the results are often amazing & you will find that it is an investment worth every penny.