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?