While I occasionally use a wide-angle focal length for capturing an expanse of landscape, I most often use it to take advantage of the wide-angle's great front-to-back depth.
Moving in physically close with a wide-angle is not an intuitive thing. The wide-angle tendency is to back up in order to take it all in. But you get a very eye-catching - and very unique - perspective when you combine a super-close foreground with a far-off background.
(Note: This blog is a follow-up to Jim Zuckerman's outstanding BetterPhoto Instructor Insights article in which he covers the "Getting Close-up with Wide-Angle" subject in his own special style and with a great variety of inspiring images.)
This old multi-colored boat first caught my eye one afternoon at Morro Bay on the central California coast. The harsh midday sunlight was not inspiring, so I returned just before sunset to catch it in the beautiful evening light.
Anytime there's a photogenic foreground and a good background, I'll grab my wide-angle lens. Along with pleasing light, I also wanted great front-to-back depth with a wide-angle focal length - in this case, 20mm. I set up my tripod very low to the ground and very close (less than 2 feet away) from the nearest part of the boat. That placement shows off the wide-angle's exploded perspective, in which a foreground subject appears exaggerated in relation to the background.
For this image, I chose a small aperture (f/22) to get as much depth of field (DOF) as possible - in other words, good sharpness from front to back. In addition, I also carefully selected the point of focus, since focusing is important to wide-angle DOF too. Setting the focus far into the scene, for instance, will never get a close foreground sharp. Here, I set the focusing point on the middle of the boat's red area in the low foreground. The combination of small aperture and wide-angle ensured that the area in front of that focusing point (the beach's shells and small rocks) and in back of it (all the way into the distance) would be acceptably sharp too.
I double-checked the LCD playback to verify the depth of field to make sure the all-important foreground was crisp and clear. In fact, many cameras have a function for enlarging the LCD image in order to easily check key areas for sharpness.
Along with the tripod, I used a cable shutter release (the self-timer works too) to make sure my hand didn't inadvertently jiggle the camera when clicking the shutter.
- Wide-angle perspective, depth of field, and many other subjects (related to composition, color, light and design) are covered in my new book co-authored with Jim Miotke: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography.