I love using a wide angle lens!

When I’m out with my camera, more often than not, I’ve got my 30mm prime attached because it’s light, sharp, fast and most of all, helps me tell a story. I especially love it when I’m out in the city.

But when I’m in the bush, I love to go even wider! Whether it’s capturing an expansive mountain view or a thick forest floor, I always reach for the widest lens in my kit to tell the story.

Let’s talk about some do’s and don’ts that help me to get the most out of shooting wide.

Do: keep the photo simple

Sometimes when using a wide angle lens, it’s tempting to fit as much as you can into the image. However, one of the most effective ways to utilise a wide angle lens is to leave content out. A bit of the good old “less is more” principal.

Wide angle lenses are perfect for open spaces with a single tree or a seascape with an expansive sky. One of my favourite things to shoot is when my kids are out exploring. I love nothing more then standing back and observing as they discover.

photo of girl waling in grass by Jayne Cho
black and white photo of kids climbing stairs outside by Jayne Cho

Don’t: forget about the subject matter

Whether you’re shooting a minimalistic landscape or a busy street scene, there still needs to be a point to the image – it could be as simple as an interesting texture or repeated colour, or you might want to convey the busyness of a market place. I like to think about what I’m trying to communicate before clicking the shutter, especially in the busy scenes.

Korea street photography by Jayne Cho
This image was begging to be taken – such a typical scene outside a traditional Korean market. Old friends sitting on bits of cardboard, talking, laughing, sharing stories – one of them even had a shirt with “Korea” on the back! I couldn’t have set the scene more perfectly myself, and the 30mm lens was wide enough to capture the foreground and importantly, the entrance to the markets in the background.
street photography with a wide angle lens by Jayne Cho
I particularly like this image because my husband and daughter are walking together, securely and calmly in what was a crazy, hectic scene. They’re prominent enough to be the obvious subject matter, but it’s still clear that the surroundings are chaotic.

Do: utilise compositional elements

With so much of a scene able to be included in an image, it’s sometimes easy to lose focus on what is important. One of my favourite compositional techniques is leading lines. They can lead the viewer’s eye right to the subject matter, and create more dramatic images.

photo of boy walking on rocks by the water by Jayne Cho
In this image, the stretch of sand in the foreground is pointing straight to my son in the background. And the jagged texture of the rocks adds an extra element of drama.

Another simple technique that can really add punch to your wide images is to incorporate framing.

Other ways to incorporate framing is to capture subjects within door frames or windows, or among trees as I was able to do here.
Other ways to incorporate framing is to capture subjects within door frames or windows, or among trees as I was able to do here.
pic of boy in a hat holding candy by Jayne Cho
Shot again with my 30mm prime, I deliberately positioned my son in front of this street-food tent which served two purposes. Firstly, it helped to convey the location and secondly, it provided a nice framing opportunity as he proudly showed off the packet of candy he’d just bought.
photo of boy climbing rocks by the water by Jayne Cho
In this image, my son is framed within the rock face – clearly allowing him to be the main subject matter, but at the same time, incorporating the surrounding environment.

Don’t: worry about lens distortion

Technically, a wide angle lens is any lens that has a wider field of view than what the human eye sees. This means that objects closer to the camera appear larger than ones farther away, even if they are the same size in reality. It can also cause horizons to suddenly bend in the middle, lines of buildings to converge and roads disappear into the distance quickly.

All of these aspects can be used to your advantage, and with a few tweaks in Lightroom, any bendy horizons can soon be straightened out.

backlit-picture-of-kids-playing-in-the-trees-by-jayne-cho
picture of kid walking down the street by Jayne Cho

Do: use a wide angle for photographing people

A wide angle lens can be used very successfully for shooting people. They’re especially helpful when shooting groups because you can get the whole story!

Don’t: use a wide angle for portraits

Actually, this is not 100% true for me, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the wide angle lens can be unflattering, when people suddenly have very big noses if shot from a close distance. Sometimes this can be fun though!

black and white portrait of young boy by Jayne Cho

So there you have it – some of my do’s and don’ts of using a wide angle lens.

Wide angle lenses are powerful! I love them because they have the ability to bring your viewer into the middle of the most chaotic scene, allowing them to almost hear and smell the surroundings. And on the other hand, they can find rest and calm in the simplest of landscapes.

But most of all, a wide angle lens allows me to have the career I’ve always wanted, to be a documentary journalist – of my own life!