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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Gallery Twenty: Controlling perspective with the wideangle lens tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Twenty: Controlling perspective with the wideangle lens


The wideangle lens can be one of the most effective lenses for expressive travel photography. It helps us control perspective to imply depth, compare subjects in terms of scale, and create rich layers of meaning, all of which can be critical factors in visual expression. Our vantage points can help us do this, but we can also use a true wideangle lens, equivalent to 24mm focal length or wider, to optically restructure an image to control and change perspective, making it mean more to the viewer.

What do we mean by controlling perspective? Every travel photographer has viewed scenes that originally looked great to the eye, but came out “flat” and boring as pictures. That’s because our cameras have only one eye – a lens. Cameras see the world in only two dimensions, height and width. But if we carefully control perspective, we can make pictures that imply depth as well, giving our viewers the illusion of a third dimension and building more vitality and meaning into our pictures. Some call this process “adding depth.” Others use a more complex term – “dimensionality.” I even heard it called “seeing in deep space.” But it all means the same thing – controlling perspective to force the camera see less like a camera and more like our own eyes.

The key to wideangle perspective control is to anchor the image with strong foreground content and then add “layers” of meaning to the image, comparing the scale of the foreground information to the content in the middle ground, and also to the background. As content gets smaller in terms of scale contrast, the viewer’s eye is drawn more deeply into the image, acquiring meaning as it goes.

A wideangle lens is ideal for this task. Longer focal lengths compress information, while wideangle lenses can create that richly layered sense of depth. The wideangle lens also offers maximum sharpness from the foreground all the way into the background. By moving closer to our subjects with a wideangle lens, we can make them much more detailed and emphatic in scale, yet still manage retain enough background information within our frame to retain important context for meaning. In other words, a wideangle lens allows us to have our cake and eat it too!

Another advantage of the wideangle lens is that it allows us to get large subjects into our frame, even in tight quarters. This can come in very handy, particularly when photographing interior subjects.

Some people fear wideangle lenses because they can “distort” the subject or bend the horizon, particularly at the edges of the picture. I have no problem with such distortion – most viewers instinctively recognize it as a perceptual effect, and regard it as such. It is just another way photographers can alter reality to make a point. Instead of the word “distortion,” I prefer to use the words “emphasize meaning.” In other words, distortion is just another form of expression, not an inherent flaw in the medium.

I’ve selected most of these images from my archive of digital travel articles posted at: http://www.pnd1.smugmug.com/ .

This gallery is presented in "blog" style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a detailed caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see it in its full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions, and will be delighted to respond.


(I offer a companion gallery to this one, demonstrating use of telephoto lenses, at: http://www.pbase.com/pnd1/telephoto )