Summer with Ultra Wide Angle – Irix 11mm f/4.0
Holidays. It’s a time that a lot of us look forward to every year.
In our minds, we’re already dressed up ready for our plans and we’re packed for every eventuality.We’re moving forward to discover new places and improve our photographic workshop. We’re also hoping that, in addition to all those wonderful memories, we’re all be coming back with a disk full of fascinating photos, imaginative images and in turn, spending time selecting those prize-winning snapshots.
Tough choice – equipment
As we’ve already seen, a common goal is usually the destination for any photographer around the world, regardless of whether they’re simply amateurs armed with a smartphone, or professionals with a multitude of top-class equipment that’s been carefully arranged in a suitcase. But what distinguishes us from each other is the way in which we approach our preparations for achieving this: there are those minimalists who take only a small compact camera/phone, and there are the devotees who usually carry a set of 35/85 mm or 24/50 mm prime lenses. Then there are the believers, whose mantra is “everything will come in handy”, and so taking with them a whole range of 14-24 / 24-70 / 70-200 lenses. But regardless of what we take with us, we can be sure that with each of these sets – along with a little bit of practice and luck – we’ll be taking breathtaking photos, pictures and prints to be remembered for a long time and even longer in our portfolio.
But this article is not meant to make you believe that you’re doing everything right, but should make you curious and willing to think hard about your snaps and maybe even discuss them with one another, a no less interesting concept.
Until recently, I personally preferred using a full-frame 28mm f/1.8 set (along with a polarizing filter and a grey ND64 so as to enjoy an open aperture in the hot sun of southern Europe) in tandem with the 50mm f/1.4 (with a grey filter on the ND128, and imagining how nice it would be to come back with beautiful portraits in full sunshine). These two lenses allowed me to photograph in such a way that it wouldn’t even cross my mind that something was missing. However, some time ago, I had the opportunity to take an Irix 11mm f/4.0 lens for my vacation and… well, this ended my idyllic idea of what I considered should be necessary photographic equipment I should be taking.
Difficulties or opportunity?
An ultra-wide-angle lens like the Irix 11mm f/4.0 now gives us a completely new idea of framing and perceiving what’s in front of us. At first glance, and with initial photographic attempts, this is undoubtedly a demanding piece of kit along with its sometimes – even difficult – focal length (you can suddenly find your own feet in the frame when shooting vertically!). But it does allow you to get extremely interesting and amazing shots. Now it’s not important as to whether we’re in the south of Europe, heated by the warmth of the sun in the narrow streets of beautiful historical cities, or visiting Lofoten (charming though it is) with its minimal and harsh climate. The wide lens allows us completely new possibilities of photography and expression, regardless of whether we’re taking shots of landscapes, or monuments (because we have to capture that single shot of the Colisseum, Diocletian’s Palace or the narrow streets of Venice) or enchanted minimalistic beauty we find housed within modern architecture.
Ultra-wide-angle lenses are full of contradictions: they are difficult to compose but give great results. Paradoxically, they are fabulously simple to use from the technical side of the photo. Why? Well, such extremely wide glasses do not really need autofocus – by f/4.0, the depth of field ranges from 2 metres to infinity, and then by F/8.0 from 80 cm to infinity which, in combination with the focus ring lock (if the lens allows it), this allows us to shoot after setting the focus and aperture just the once without the need to remember about these parameters practically all day long. This is especially practical when visiting new places where we don’t have time to get things together or take care of what should be the correct settings while we’re getting all those important parameters of the photo.
Probably many of you would be reluctant to look at such a wide lens. They don’t allow the use of polarizing filters and I have to admit that, as a big fan of the popular CPL after my first attempts (on the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens, which has the appropriate thread), my doubts about the appropriateness of using this type of filter soon disappeared because the viewing angle (already at 15mm) is already so wide that the polarization effect often doesn’t cover the entire frame. So I decided that I wouldn’t use CPL and so jumped straight to the widest possible option. Although, to be honest, I must admit that under specific conditions the polarizing filter would still find use in extremely wide lenses such as when photographing shiny objects (e.g. cars) or at the lake (when we want to compensate for specific reflections on the water surface).
With an ultra-wide angle lens it’s worth following a few rules, but as always, breaking them can also result in some interesting photos. So with this in mind I’d like to share with you:
Eight principles that you should consider when shooting with an ultra-wide angle lens.
1) Fill the frame with something interesting.
Maybe it sounds banal, but is there anything more obvious than photographing only interesting things? Certainly not, but with a field of view larger than 110 degrees, we must ensure that the attention of the viewer is focused on something specific because, by filling the frame with everything and anything, it can often turn out that there’s nothing in it.
2) Come close, really close.
One important issue in the selection of the focal length is the perspective it creates: from telephoto lenses that compress the image, looking through a natural view of the 50mm lens, or ending with a dramatic extended perspective of ultra wide-angle lenses which can add drama to the photographed scene by giving it an unnatural look. Using this latter property, we can impressively highlight the first plan and thus move away from further plans and background. Thanks to this the viewer’s attention is involuntarily directed at the topic that interests you.
3) The subject of the photo – that is what we want
In broad optics, the subject of photography – if you wanted it or not – will usually be in the centre-centre or centre-corners of the rule-of-thirds scheme so it’s worth considering how to capture a given scene so that it doesn’t come out caricatured. The figure in the centre extending hands to us will come out as unnatural (their hands will look incredibly slim and long). This may be considered as artistic expression to some, but when generalizing this isn’t good practice in everyday photography. So let’s think about the main subject of our photo and “dress” it within natural frames, for example, gates, stalls, walls, trees, buildings, etc., while at the same time taking care of capturing a frame containing an element that fuses all ideas.
4) Open up a really small space
Small spaces are small, which is kind of obvious really. The widest lenses are a dream come true; they are the crème de la crème in imagining the reality of developers and hoteliers, although personally I don’t approve of the practice of showing a three-square-metre bathroom as a ‘bathing room’. But these types of lenses just let it do just so, and although photographing these interiors would be extremely difficult or impossible without them, it’s not like, well, we’re looking at these rooms to their full advantage. However, the same principle applies to outdoor photos. Countless topics on outdoor photography on this basis include photographs of campers, retro-vans, campers around the campfire, resting in a hammock and so on. It belongs in an area where one can exchange so many creative options.
5) Add character using the leading lines
One of the characteristic features of photography is the use of leading lines. Their perception can be extremely creative: from simple, painted road signs, looking through fences popular in landscape photography, spiral staircases often used in architectural photography, all the way to queues of people waiting for ‘something’. It’s interesting because the human eye is constructed in such a way that we notice these lines involuntarily and so focus our attention on them. The easiest way to explain this is by framing from ‘somewhere’. It can be a vertical line, horizontal, transverse, diagonal, slanted or something else. But for the really trained eye we can have the golden ratio – otherwise known as Fibonacci’s Spiral (simply put, you create a grid like in the rule of thirds, but one that uses a 1:1.618 ratio, instead of dividing the frame into equal parts). Both the spiral and grid are good shapes to keep in mind as you compose your image. However this is, in my opinion, the most difficult technique of them all; it requires practice when giving an incredibly harmonious composition.
6) Watch out! Something’s going to fall down soon!
When photographing architecture, it is worth remembering one simple principle – the camera matrix (the back of the camera for simpler imaging) must remain perpendicular to the object being photographed, otherwise we’ll get the impression that the object being photographed is leaning on us or abnormally moving away. As usual, there are exceptions to this rule, but it should be used consciously, otherwise, our photo may land in the wastebasket because correction to this error in post-production is difficult and rarely gives satisfactory results.
7) Take pictures from the hip
Many of us, when we were young, have watched spaghetti westerns in which the heroes, shooting from the proverbial hip, end up achieving great “results”. Wide-angle lenses give the opportunity to make old dreams come true and make us feel like a movie hero – the ‘from the hip’ perspective looks just right in this type of construction. The suggestion in the frame is built just correctly and leaves enough free space around the person/topic of the image. It is extremely easy to photograph in this way with the focus-lock function set to a specific value, eg 2m-> infinity or 0.5m-> 20m.
8) In short – just shoot!
Well, I don’t know to be quite honest, but I (silently!) hope that what’s delivered here in this article is something that you, the reader, have found interesting. At the same time, I’ve left the way open for discussion because there are so many differing opinions from so many photographers. After all, the beauty of photography lies in the fact that, as a medium based on the image, it leaves the door ajar to discuss what we perpetuate and in what way. The camera, lens and filters are just tools that allow you to achieve a specific effect, and the effect of using optics with a wide field of view allows you to show the world in a way that we are unable to see with our own eyes.
Irix Product Manager