Why I Love My 20mm Lens to Shoot Weddings

Why I Love My 20mm Lens to Shoot Weddings

When starting out in wedding photography, one of the most common questions that gets asked is, “What lens is a must have for my first wedding?” The most popular answers to this question are all over the map. They range from 50mm to 85mm to 70-200mm and so on. What you likely never see on the list is something like a 20mm lens, but for me, I will always have one of these lenses in my bag.

Throughout the wedding day, I'll switch between several lenses, but the first time I break out my wide-angle lens is during portraits with the bride and groom. When most people think portraits, they think tight and up close and personal in order to fill the frame. These are great and should always be a part of what you deliver to a client, however sometimes you need to be able to get a sense of the scene for a good environmental portrait. If you are using a lens similar to an 85mm, you have the ability to step back and include your entire scene. The problem with this situation is that it can lead to your subject being too small in the frame.

After taking the photo above I knew I loved the location and the setup, but I wanted there to be more focus on the couple. With a 20mm lens I knew I could make the couple more predominant in the frame while still including the bridges that originally drew me to this location.

This is a great example because the couple is standing in the exact same location as the first image, however both images are significantly different. By changing your focal length and shooting position, you can give a completely different look to an image without moving your subject or lighting. This also gives a good example to how the compression comes into play when dealing with different focal lengths. In the image shot at 20mm the bridges seem more spread out and further away from the couple. For the image taken at 85mm, the bridges are more compressed and seem closer to the couple.  

I also love to take dramatic-style images that include a significant amount of sky. When shooting a wide-angle lens I’m almost always shooting up and my subject is usually in the lower half of the frame. I feel like this gives the viewer a sense of awe, since they are looking up to the couple.

One of the benefits of utilizing a wide-angle lens is that even when shooting wide open you are able to capture basically everything in focus. The below image was taken at f/1.8 (on accident, since there was plenty of light to stop down) but since I was shooting at 20mm the couple and building are all still in focus. Considering my surroundings, I also couldn't back up any further without stepping into traffic, so the 20mm lens was the only way for me to have the entire building in the frame.

That’s not to say you can’t capture a few shallow depth of field effects to help isolate your subject. In this next image, the foreground detail was significantly closer than my subject so I was still able to have that detail become a pleasant out-of-focus blur that draws your eye into the frame where the couple is standing.

When you stop down to around f/5.6, it makes the lens perfect for run-and-gun shooting where it can be difficult to keep up with your subject. In this image below, I was running alongside the couple as they were leaving the church. I could conveniently frame my shot, start shooting, and not have to worry too much about focusing on the couple as they ran toward me. Mind you, this was me shooting and running backward down the stairs, not something I always recommend.

Once we arrive at the reception location, I usually have my 20mm lens glued to one camera body. Shooting wide allows me capture a good overall shot of the venue. Then, from that point I use light to draw the viewer's eye to the subject.

One of my favorite parts of the day is when the traditional first-dances have ended, and the party dancing begins. Originally, when I first started shooting weddings, I would hover around the outside of the dance floor. When I began shooting with the 20mm lens, I found that it required me to get up and in the action. This can be a little awkward at times, but once you jump in there, you tend to receive more interaction from guests and they start to loosen up and show off for you.

Although I try to crop most of my images in-camera, when shooting super wide it can sometimes be hard to get close enough to the action. Other times, you only have a split second to catch a special moment before it's gone, so you don't have time to move closer. In instances like this I have no issue cropping a photo in post to tighten up my frame.

The thing to keep in mind when shooting with a 20mm lens, or any other wide-angle lens, is the effect it can have on people’s faces. The closer your subject is to the edges of the frame and the closer your subject is to the camera, the more this distortion can affect your image. That is why I only use my 20mm lens for full body portraits. For more information about how distortion affects the face, check out this great article on how a lens' focal length shapes the face.

Another distortion to keep in mind is perspective distortion. This can be seen in the image above with the large building. Since I’m fairly close to the building, I have to tilt my camera up to get the entire building in the frame. By utilizing this technique with a wide-angle lens, it can seem that the edges of the building are falling in toward the center of the frame. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be mindful of. This can be fixed in post, to an extent, but when you have subjects in the image, they may end up looking stretched or misshapen if you’re not careful. Because of this, I try to keep my subjects a decent distance away from the camera, as well as in the center of the frame, to help minimize this distortion from affecting them.

What do you think? Do you have a wide-angle lens as part of your kit? How do you like to use your wide-angle lenses?

Log in or register to post comments


Previous comments
Jason Vinson's picture

I would go with lensrental.com just since i have never had an issue with them and their customer service has always been stellar to work with! i have no experience with borrowlenses and they may be good, i just dont have any experience with them.


Benjamin will love to know how you lit up the couple in the second pic as I've tried lot of times but was not successful to lit the couple properly.

Benjamin Lundberg's picture

Both photos are a composite since their is an assistant standing right next to the couple in both of them. I shoot one photo of the couple light up with the assistant all in frame and then take a second photo with everyone out of it so I can have a section to cut and paste. I used a tripod on both to keep the composition the same. Then it is just an issue of cutting and pasting in Photoshop and a little blending of the two photos. The following is a link to a short blog post I did showing some before and after shots.



Thanks Benjamin hav gone through the blog , its very much informative and cleared all the doubts in my mind.


Jason will love to know how you hav lit up the couple in the second pic as I've tried lot of times but was not successful to lit the couple properly.

Charlie Magrin's picture

beautiful shots benjamin! could you tell me how did you lit the couple on the stairs please? thanks a lot!

Benjamin Lundberg's picture

Thanks Charlie. The couple on the steps is a composite of 5 photos. The first photo has them standing on the steps and my assistant is standing next to them with an Nikon flash in a white shoot-thru umbrella on a light stand. The assistant is standing on the steps below them and to the left of them. The next four photos have the couple out of frame and off partying. My assistant then aims the flash at one of the pillars for each of the four photos. The camera was on a tripod so the pictures would be easy to line up in post production. At that point all I did really was use the lasso tool to cut sections out of a photo and put it all on one mater picture. Then I just did a little blending to get all the different parts to look right. I can put together a behind the scenes photo and write up on my blog if you are interested.

Joe Watson's picture

Nice! Having come from a music background before weddings I used to shoot everything with my 10-20mm Sigma, I always enjoyed being right in the thick of the action. I don't so much these days until people start getting wild on the dance floor, then I'm literally in there partying with them, especially good for Fathers of the groom loosing their minds on the dance floor!

Joe Watson's picture

Also, while talking about the dance floor and how it can sometimes be intimidating amongst drunken stranger... Do any of you drink on the job? Serious question! I always find having a few beers with guests means they see you as an equal and they let their guard down.... or am I just an alcoholic?

Jason Vinson's picture

I have a couple beers at every wedding. Its one of the perks of what we do! I try and wait till after the traditional first dances but I'll occasionally have one with dinner if I have the option to sit down and relax for a few.

Jon Wolding's picture

"or am I just an alcoholic?"

Ha! This made me laugh hard... :D

While I don't shoot weddings (I have, I just don't enjoy it), I totally know what you mean. I think there's a fine, blurry line. This is why I will only shoot friends' weddings... and only as a GUEST. I've captured some real gems that way. Zero expectations. No posing. Just honest moments.

Charlie Magrin's picture

Hello Jason, Your imagery is beautiful! I love using my 14-24 2.8 at weddings too, but this article opened up a new world to me. Your work is so inspiring! thanks for this great article!

Charlie Magrin's picture

Jason can you tell me how did you lit the couple that is standing under the bridge please? amazing and original shots by the way!

Jason Vinson's picture

thanks Charlie! i used an Einstein Strobe in a large octa with a grid! for the 20mm shot the light is just out of frame to camera right. for the 85mm shot its actually in the fame and i took the light out in post.

Arash Nikkhah's picture

Well I got Sigma 35mm 1.4 and 20mm 1.4 for my d810,first they had heavy front focus specially from 1 meter distance and more.After Lens Align system calibration I have very nice sharp images when I focus in a subject which is less than a meter away but more than a meter or 2 is very soft which I expected from a prime lens to be more sharp! I have send my body to Nikon NPS and they checked and said camera is in order and they have checked with Nikon wide angle lenses and focusing is right in body!
I have to check with other friends who has same lens and body or bring it to Sigma to check further!
Any idea or same problem?!