We spend our time trying to get closer to animals, to photograph them and to see the intricate details they possess. We can sometimes become so focused on getting in close that we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. More often that not, I have failed to capture an animal in its natural environment and put some perspective into the lives these wild animals lead. This post will hopefully help us step back, and take a look at the scene: manage lines, contrasts, natural light and scale. Just a few aspects to keep in mind when using a wide angle lens to photograph wildlife.
I recently purchased a wide angle lens, the Canon 10-22mm EFS. It was my goal to get into some sort of landscape photography, but when exploring through the reserve and testing the lens, I was amazed at the types of images popping up on my screen. However, there is much to a wide angle lens, and it is not as simple as point and click. But by doing a bit of research one can slowly get to grips with certain aspects that will make using a wide angle lens so much more beneficial.
Wide Angle lenses:
Below are just a few examples and brands to look out for. Each will come with its own price range and quality. Do your research, it pays off. (There is certain terminology that narrows down wide angle lenses and ultra wide angle lenses. But for this we will refer to anything below 35mm as simple wide angle.)
Canon 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 EFS
Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8 L II USM
Canon EF 20mm F2.8 USM
Nikon AF 18-35mm F3.5-4.5 D
Nikon AF-S 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 G DX ED
Nikon AF-S 12-24mm F4 G DX IF-ED
Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM
Sigma 20mm F1.8mm EX DG ASP RF
Sigma AF 18-35mm F1.8
Tamron 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 DI II LD
Tokina AT-X 11-16mm F2.8 PRO DX II (CANON)
Composition is everything:
Wide angle lenses are sometimes confused as lenses that are used to fit things into a frame without having to move further away from the subject. This is not the case. These lenses are for putting the viewer right in the action and it may take a bit of bravery or dirt to get right in the face of your subject. These lenses generally have a close minimum focusing distance, which allows one to get up close and personal. With wild animals this can become a little tough. But try your best. When composing wildlife with such a wide lens, it is worthwhile trying to show other elements which will enhance the story around the subject matter.
With wide angle lenses, it is easy to lose the subject in the image if it is not going to be scaled up on a massive print. Each image will have a completely different feeling and impact when printed at different sizes. Eg: A print of a mouse at 4×6″ as apposed to the same image printed at 20×30″. The latter is completely unnecessary. The use of scale in a wide angle photograph is also useful to consider when you want to illustrate perspectives of size.
Edges and Lines:
Wide angle lenses are not fish eye lenses that tend to distort everything especially lines, that become curved. Wide angle lenses keep lines straight, however they do distort, but not technically, they distort artiscally and when used in the correct manner they can produce amazing results. On the edges and the corners, wide angle lenses will stretch the corners and the edges and they will also exaggerate any misalignment within an image. But they keep these lines straight and it is good to use these exaggerations to your advantage.
Near Far Relationship:
With telephoto lenses, i.e: Zoom lenses, the relationship between objects is not exploited. These lenses tend to squeeze everything onto the same plane and compress ones perspective. Wide angle lenses do the opposite. They push the background very far and pull the foreground very close. They also expand spaces. The will make small spaces seem bigger by pushing horizons further away. Eg: The will make a small tree look massive in the context of the background.
Controlling Natural light:
This is a very tricky part to wide angle photography. It is very difficult to ensure ones exposure is correct with wide angle lenses. There tends to be a large variation in the light across the image as a whole, leaving some parts of an image overexposed and others underexposed. The human eye would naturally adjust for this as we look in different directions. One mechanism is to use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND) to overcome uneven lighting, another is to take multiple exposures of the same image and then create a single image with an increased Higher Dynamic Range.
The use of a wide angle lens for me opens up many doors, it allows me to explore a side of photography I never knew before and it has excited me to challenge myself. I have only had this lens for 6 weeks now and so many of the images need some work, but thats what practice and learning is all about. It leads to better knowledge and further understanding. But, in essence, this is about passion, it is about capturing a moment that moves you and it is about creating memories that will forever be with you.
I encourage you to try some techniques out for yourself and please leave some comments about the pictures and how you think they may be changed for a greater impact. I look forward to some constructive criticism as well as any additions to the technical side or thoughts in general.
Written by: Mike Sutherland
Photographed by: Mike Sutherland, Rich Laburn & Elsa Young
Filed under Photography Wildlife
This is a fantastic read!! Thanks for the info! Will be bringing my wide angle to Londoz in August!
Great stuff Mike. My Canon 7D came with a 10X22 and I use with great success. I didn’t have it when I previously visited Londolozi, but you can be certain I will have it when I return in May 2014. I consider it the best thing I have other than my 100X400.
Great write up Mike, thanks for the interesting ideas and thoughts on this new approach to wildlife photography. Its interesting to note that Greg du Toit’s image which won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 competition was taken with a 16-35mm f4 lens. rich
Great Stuff Mike, thank you so much for all the tips…
Mike, I am no expert, but I love all the pictures that are posted on the blogs, but I would like to ask you why, with this new wide angled lens, is it that the elephants, especially the B&W picture seem to be leaning in, as are the dead leadwood trees & the elephant in the last picture. Its almost like a “fish-eye” lens effect? I would like to see your comment.
As always I learn so much when I visit the blog. Mostly about the animals. Here you inspire me to try something new. Like you, I have avoided the wide angle, leaving what I labeled “establishing shots” to Fred.
My goal this year is to explore new possibilities. We leave in a few weeks for the Galapagos. I’ve been fretting about doing the same old thing. Out of the cabinet where it has been gathering dust and into my travel case goes my Canon 16-35. Thank you for insights and beautiful examples.
Thanks Mike, really great article!