Fitting a wide-angle lens into a narrow workflow
When photographing people Simon King usually likes to keep a bit of distance for his own comfort as much as theirs, whilst still trying to have an intimate quality to his images. A super wide angle 21mm would usually not be the choice of lens. Learn here why Simon disagrees.
I never thought of myself as much of a wide angle photographer. I like making my lenses work for me, and fit to my style, rather than branding myself as a photographer according to any special effect I’m able to achieve from “gear of the month.” I learned photography on a 35mm lens, but as a professional my main lens has always been a 50mm. Honestly, when I bought the 21mm it was as a novelty, for special use on architecture and landscape; not for street or journalism. I thought that 21mm is on the verge of the extreme; beyond that are fisheye or pinhole lenses, with vignetting and distortion entirely beyond what I would consider useable. However, I found after a few assignments that the Biogon T*2.8/21 has such low distortion that many people mistake my work with it for a 35mm lens. The bokeh and vignetting at f/2.8 is so natural that when working up close on portraits, or street, I have very little that needs “correcting” in Lightroom afterwards.
Recently, I started to trust the 21mm to the point at which I do not treat it as a “wide” lens. For my style this lens shines at either extreme closeness or extreme distance. I have started to try and train my eye to find perspectives I may not have noticed otherwise, and to use my 21mm to enhance the scale of elements in a scene. This, to me, adds a sense of power, or isolation, depending on the application.
The lens renders very boldly. Lines are clear and sharp, and colour is very vivid. I love it for silhouettes, as shooting against the light has almost no consequences in terms of flare and ghosting which are close to non-existent at all apertures. Scenes I photograph with this lens have a certain “exactness.” It is not a soft lens, even in the corners, so I don’t have to worry about elements bleeding into one another. For example, to the left is a full colour image; not black and white.
The tones in the floor reflection and the detail in her clothing when viewed at 100% is all exactly as I wanted them to look. The room was only a few metres wide, so the perspective on that kind of space offered by this lens is unique. Distortion is only apparent at the extreme edges and corners, and will only be noticeable if the image has been composed to emphasise this. For example, when shooting this image I fully expected there to be some fringing in the corners that would require my attention, however when it came to looking at it in Lightroom all I actually did was tweak the shadows and highlights.
This was taken from kneeling maybe a metre from the smoking man, and I love the result. The lens is wide enough to make a photograph both dramatic and surreal at the same time.
I am also able to produce some fantastic panoramas with this lens, which I’ve discussed before in other articles. I like cinematic photography, and producing them requires occasionally cropping, and framing with the intention to crop. I’ve brought this lens with me on most, if not all, of my major assignments. I also use it day-to-day as a street lens. Despite not being an aspheric design the lens is very compact, and it tucks very neatly into the corner of my bag where I can forget about it until I find a photograph that requires it.
I travel and photograph often, and I have no excuses to not have this lens with me at all times. I have been able to produce images that previously wouldn’t have occurred to me with a more standard field of view – and would not have been able to if the lens were not in my bag. I look forward to seeing what else I’m able to create with this lens, and I recommend trying it, or its sister the Biogon 2.8/25 ZM, to anyone considering changing things up a little in their gear selection.
More about Simon King
You can follow my projects, both past and future, by following the rolling stream of my Instagram (www.instagram.com/simonking_v). I also maintain a blog of my thoughts and day-to-day projects, at streetdances.wordpress.com. I have written a few notes there on the Biogon, but never as extensively as here.