(You can view the images in this column in a larger size by clicking on them.)
The wide-angle lens is one of the most effective tools for telling stories visually. It helps us control perspective to imply depth, compare subjects in terms of scale, and create rich layers of meaning, all of which can be critical factors in visual expression.
Every photographer has viewed scenes that look great to the eye, yet come out “flat” and boring as pictures. That’s because our cameras have only one eye: a lens. Cameras see the world in only two dimensions: height and width. But if we carefully control perspective, we can imply depth as well, creating an illusion of a third dimension and building more vitality and meaning into our pictures.
The wide-angle lens also allows us to anchor the image using strong foreground content for emphasis, and then add “layers” of meaning to the image, comparing the size of the foreground information to the content in the middle ground, and also to the background. The wide-angle lens also offers maximum focusing sharpness from foreground into to background. By moving closer we can make our subject more detailed and emphatic in scale, yet still manage to embrace enough background information to create context for meaning.
Choices, Lijiang, China
In the first example above, we see an example of the wide-angle lens’s tremendous depth of focus. I was able to get everything in focus, including the man’s budding beard, his wife, the patient waitress’s expression, and beyond. I was seated next to the man, only a foot or so away. The wide-angle lens can be an essential tool when working in tight spaces.
The Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina
The Citadel has been a military school since 1843. I moved below the World War II artillery piece mounted at one end of the Citadel’s parade ground, and used its diagonal thrust as an emphatic anchor to draw a comparison to the flow of college buildings below it. This wide-angle composition creates a time tunnel, drawing the viewer into the past. We see the school’s buildings, designed as castles and caught between the sea of storm clouds overhead and the green parade ground below. A tiny flag stands alone in the breeze. The scene is deserted. Only the viewer is present here.
Sunset, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
The final example comes from Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. The park anchors a 25-million acre World Heritage Site, one of the world’s largest protected natural areas. There are fifteen glaciers within the park; the ice in this image has fallen from the face of Margerie Glacier. Shooting with a 24mm wide-angle lens from the deck of our ship in the late evening light, I was able to contrast the effect of the warm setting sun against the chill of floating ice that seems to extend forever. The wideangle lens seems to stretch both the sky and the sea.