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Push the Wide Lens

  • “You know the standard rule of photography that states you shouldn’t shoot people with a wide-angle lens? It’s a rule meant to be broken.”

Ever notice when you put a wide-angle lens to your eye, and it looks great, and you think you’ve got everything in the picture, you look at it later and you’ve got too much of everything in the picture, and the crucial elements are teeny tiny in the back of the frame where you can barely see ‘em? Tom Kennedy, my editor at the Geographic, always told me to: “Push the wide-angle lens—go wide, get tight, fill the frame.” What he means is that consistently shooting pictures from a middle distance, at eye level, is a one-way ticket to boring pictures.

You can push a wide-angle lens very close to someone’s face and still see the street behind them—there’s plenty of context. You know the standard rule of photography that states you shouldn’t shoot people with a wide-angle lens? It’s a rule meant to be broken. Open any magazine and flip though the environmental portraits—you’ll see a horizontal, wide-angle lens used very close to the subject again and again.

Here’s an example: at a workshop once, I had a lovely lady who was assigned to do a story on a boat captain. She was terrified of shooting people, and kept coming in with these wide-angle pictures that showed the whole boat with the captain doing something interesting that you couldn’t see because he was the size of a pea at the back of the boat. After three days of this, I took her camera, walked up to her, extended my arm, and placed my hand on her shoulder. I said, “Today, you will take this camera and this wide-angle lens, and you will be no further than this (meaning the length of my arm) from your subject, all day.” Her pictures improved dramatically.

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