Funny thing about wide angle lenses: Many emerging photographers don’t like using them. Perhaps it’s difficult to focus with them because everything seems so small. Perhaps composing with such a wide angle is more complicated than with a mid-range lens. Whatever the reason, I feel that there are just not enough great examples of how to really use a wide angle lens. Fortunately for us, Andrea Calvi has shared his work, La via, with the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Pool. In La via, Calvi show’s us how to use a wide angle lens effectively.
My mentor was the first to teach me how best to use a wide angle lens. She taught me about placing things close to the lens and using the rest of the scene as a background. But Bryan Peterson – author of many popular photography education books – describes the technique the best. He refers wide angle lenses as “storytelling lenses”. What an eloquent way to put it.
Well as we can see, Calvi’s photograph is clearly a storytelling shot. The context is a relatively busy pedestrian street – up ahead, there is clearly far more foot traffic than in the foreground. The foreground subject is a child in a stroller. But the element that makes the photo, for me at least, is the child’s expression – a look of questioning and overwhelming confusion. With the crowds ahead, I’d feel the same. As an impartial observer of this photograph, there are a great number of stories that I – or any other observer – could extract from the photo.
The photograph was shot at 24mm with an f-stop of f/14. The aperture is fairly small, so it permits us to see the entirety of the scene in crisp focus. The focal length is pretty wide, which allows us to see the child while also fitting the sky and all of the context into the shot. Wide angles can sometimes result in some slight distortions. The angle of view is very often times much wider than the human eye is accustomed to seeing. In La via, there is a slight – barely detectable – barrel distortion. But it does not detract from the photo in any way. In this case, it is far more important to show the full context than to worry about distortion.
The last element I’d like to point out about Calvi’s photograph is the quality of the light. Taken close to sunset, sunlight has a lot of character in a photograph. It takes on many warm, rich colors, it reflects to yield even more rich colors. It casts long, dramatic shadows. And it skims surfaces – like the stones in the pavement – to give them depth and character. It’s not always possible, but capturing a moment like this near sunset (or sunrise) is ideal. You will find no better source of natural light.
This is an incredible use of the wide angle lens, and there is so much in this photograph to be inspired by. I’m glad that Calvi had an opportunity to share it with us.