Go wide or go home

some thoughts on my addiction to shooting with a wide angle lens

As you have heard me state here before, I just absolutely LOVE my 14-24mm wide-angle lens.  It’s incredible.  It’s a superbly-crafted machine and it performs extraordinarily well.   I wrote a review of the lens which I published here on the blog.  Bottom line: I love it.

(but all photos in this article were shot with my iPhone, just to confuse you – kidding!  these are all shot with the wide angle - just trying to make sure you are paying attention here)

Looking down two streets at once in Dublin - I love doing that!

A little history

I started with a crop-sensor Nikon DSLR and it was a good camera.  I only had a single lens on that old camera – a pretty standard 18-200mm zoom.  It was a good, straightforward kit and served me well in the beginning.  It was a great way for me to start.  But after about a year I knew I needed to “move up”, so to speak.  I basically outgrew it, and it was lacking some key features that I really wanted.

Before I purchased this lens and the full-frame camera that it attaches to, I read lots of reviews of it, and in addition to praising the quality of it, they all also said something along these lines: you will be amazed at just how much you can get in the frame.

A recent sunset in Copenhagen - see how much you can get in the frame?

I took that with a grain of salt, so to speak, because I had not experienced it myself.  But let me tell you – they were all right!

When I first got it and started looking through it, it really was unbelievable.  It really changed the way I look at things and completely altered my perspective, and more specifically it changed my photography and sent me on a different path as a photographer.  I’m still thankful for that.

Getting addicted and dependent (which isn’t as bad as it sounds)

I have become so dependent on this lens that I rarely take it off (well, except to pack it up in my bag when I am done shooting).  It’s my “go-to” lens for my everyday shooting.  Yes, that probably defies any sort of logic and may be completely irrational, but I don’t care.  Love isn’t logical, is it?  ;-)

A back alley in Bratislava - perfect for wide angle work!

There are many trips that I go on and while I also bring along my 28-300mm zoom, it often just stays in my bag.   Don’t get me wrong – that’s a great lens as well (and you can read my review of it here) – but that just underlines the extent of my addiction to wide-angle shooting.  It would make complete sense to travel with only a zoom (instead of a wide angle), and since it ranges from 28mm all the way out to 300mm it gives you a lot of flexibility for all the possible situations you may encounter.

But nope…often my 28-300mm just sits idly in my bag, while my wide angle is out there firing brackets and absorbing everything in front of me.

And for me, I think that’s what this comes down to – firing brackets and getting a huge field of view.

My style preferences

My preference, as far as photography goes, is shooting HDR.  My usual subjects are the things I encounter (or more specifically, seek out) on my travels to various cities: cityscapes, skylines, interesting buildings, churches and all sorts of architecture, train stations, museums, street scenes (especially corners where you can get both streets in view), bridges, and any sort of “grand interior” space such as hotel lobbies.  Sometimes I get landscapes too – which I also love – but that is less frequent since I am normally in cities, with limited time to go further afield.

Leadenhall Market in London - perfect for wide-angle HDR work.

I believe that those subjects just look better in HDR, often due to the difficult light situations you encounter when shooting them. But also, these subjects are just ripe for a wide-angle view.  After all, part of the point of shooting them is to illustrate for the viewer how impressive they are…and a wide-angle view helps to communicate the feeling of awe that I experience when standing there.

So I think that is what this comes down to.  I am trying to share the sense of wonder and amazement at what I find before me, and grabbing up as much of that as possible via a wide angle lens is the best way to do that.

Am I missing out?

Now I often find myself overlooking “the little things” in my travels, partly because I love the wide angle shots so much, and partly out of laziness of changing the lenses.  That sounds terrible, but it’s true.  I am often just too lazy to make the switch.  Instead I start trying to see how to make a wide-angle shot out of it.  I’ll call that “being creative”.

St. Pancras Station in London - train stations are perfect spots for wide-angle shooting.

I used to shoot a lot of the little things, like interesting signs on the side of buildings, or unique architectural elements that are part of a larger scene.  But these days I tend to just register them mentally, and move on in search of “a bigger scene”.  Such is the nature of an addiction.

I sometimes wonder if I am missing out by not documenting these little things that I find.  After all, I feel like that is what I am doing with my photography primarily – documenting a place and the things I find there, and then sharing it with the world.

I hope I’m not missing out.  I just don’t have the interest in the little things that I once did, which is either a change in my preferences or denial on my part.  Time will tell which one.

Can mirrorless do the trick?

Interestingly, I have also been giving some thought to using a mirrorless camera, and have tested some out at the local camera store here in Austin.  The one thing that I get tired of with my current setup is the weight.  That chunky Nikon DSLR with the wide angle lens attached weighs a LOT!  The lens itself is something like 3 pounds.  That may not sound like a lot, but trying lugging it through multiple airports and various cities around the world.  It starts to wear on you.

So far, I love the idea of mirrorless (Small! Lightweight! Advanced technology!) and in particular I am really interested in the Olympus OMD ME-1.  While it is a crop sensor camera (I’m not married to the idea of full frame), it offers nearly everything I would want in a camera.  Since I travel a lot, having something small, light and compact would be a bit of a dream come true.  If I could shed several pounds of travel weight I would be feeling pretty good.

My only fear?  That the wide angle shooting won’t be wide enough.  And if you can’t tell from everything I have written so far, that would be a deal-breaker for me.  If I can’t go wide, I don’t want it.  I will just keep lugging my Nikon around if I have to.  It’s a form of exercise, right?  ;-) 

Sunrise at Trinity College in Dublin.

So my next step is to take my current camera up to the local store and do a side-by-side comparison with the Olympus mirrorless camera.  That’s the only way I will know if it will give me what I want.  I’ll be sure and share my thoughts if I end up getting one.

Change and growth

In many ways, photography is a journey of discovery.  I roam far and wide with the camera and discover new and beautiful places, and share them here on the blog.  But an equally important journey is going on inside of me - a journey of self-discovery.  

I’m learning more about what I love to do, and how to get it done.  I’m growing and refining my tastes.  I’m developing my vision, and developing my skills as well.  I’m finding the true me, and I’m enjoying the process immensely, even if it’s fraught with addiction.  ;-)

Thanks for listening.