Of the variety of lenses I own for my camera, I would have to say that the wide angle (or fish-eye) lens is perhaps the most fun and the most challenging to use. There are a number of interesting effects that can be achieved with a wide angle lens. Cramped spaces can suddenly be captured in a single frame, extreme close-ups can focus on a single object while also showing the world around it, linear compositions can become twisted and distorted.
While all of these aspects are interesting to the photographs I produce, I find that it’s actually quite challenging to set up the right shot. With every other lens I own, it’s easy to mentally frame the shot I want just with how I see the scene with my eyes. With a wide angle lens, that’s not the case. Because the wide angle lens distorts everything that isn’t in the center of the frame, it can be difficult to know if a shot would work with a wide angle lens until I get behind the camera. Similarly, the center of the wide angle lens’ field of view can often appear very far away, which may or may not provide the intended effect. Of course, with such a wide field of view, there is an additional challenge of not appearing in my own shot, which I have had happen on a number of occasions.
Despite its challenges, there are a few techniques I’ve used to determine if a picture might be better with a wide angle lens as compared to something a bit more traditional. First, if I want to show the entirety of a space, I’ll use a wide angle lens (this is perfect for night sky photography). Second, if there is a subject I either want to appear very close or very far away, I’ll use a wide angle lens. Third, if there are linear patterns or lines that might be interesting in a curved form, I’ll use a wide angle lens. More or less, if you’re willing to experiment with a wide angle lens, you might surprise yourself with what you can create!
– Benjamin M. Weilert
PS – The wide angle lens I use is a Rokinon 8mm prime lens on a Nikon D7000.