Taking Wide-Angle Photos

What is Wide-Angle Photography?

Simply put, wide-angle photography is capturing a wide field of view using the wide-angle setting of your zoom lens. The opposite of wide-angle is telephoto. You zoom in for telephoto, and zoom out for wide angle. The ocean is an expansive world, and to capture its full breadth you'll find wide-angle photography indispensable.
The focal length of a lens determines its angle of view. If you read the specifications of a digital camera, you'll find the lens focal length listed prominently-typically values between 35mm and 85mm. The smaller the value of the focal length, the wider the view. A zoom lens that goes from 35mm to 85mm shoots widest at 35mm and most telephoto at 85mm.

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(c)Masaaki Harada @ Ishigakijima

Wide-Angle Emphasizes the Foreground

The photos that follow show how a wider-angle lens can emphasize the foreground and provide more drama than a lens with a longer focal length. Each pair of photos shows the same subject.

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35mm
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28mm

Notice the difference between the 35mm lens (slightly wide-angle) and the 28mm lens (full wide-angle). The 28mm lens can fit the full subject easily into the frame. It emphasizes the foreground, magnifying the front of the subject for close inspection, and diminishes the background so that it falls off in dramatic contrast to the subject up front. It adds a sense of perspective to the image. A digital camera with a powerful wide-angle lens (a short focal length) offers more expressive ways of shooting your subjects.

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35mm
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28mm

A wide-angle lens can capture wider images within the confines of a photo, but to do so it has to shrink the elements of the image. You may notice this when you take a picture of a subject in the distance. Viewing it later, you see that the subject came out smaller than you expected.
The solution? Get as close as you can to your subject. This is one of the most important rules of underwater photography. Water carries plankton, stirred-up sand, shore run-off, and a host of other visible and invisible elements that cloud your subject. Even the purest water filters passing light, turning it blue and diminishing details. The more water you have between you and your subject, the murkier your subject appears. When you get close, you have a lot less water between your lens and your subject so you can capture the full brilliance of your subject.

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If you don't get close to your subject when using a wide-angle lens, you'll end up with a half-baked photo like this. The subject is small, distant, and boring.

Angle of View

Angle of view measures the amount of a scene you can fit into the frame of your viewfinder from a single distance. The wider the angle of view, the more of a scene you can fit into your picture. In the images below, the framed image on the left has a narrower angle of view than the framed image on the right, which has a wider angle of view.
Every photographer has tried at one time or another to frame a group of subjects and not been able to fit everything in the picture: a group of friends where someone's cut off the side of the picture, or a large school of fish that straggles outside the frame. On land, you can simply pull further back from the group until they fit in the frame. Underwater, though, water gets in the way. The further you get from your subject, the murkier the subject gets unless the water is exceptionally clear. Even then your subject will get bluer with distance.
A digital camera with a wide angle of view lets you take photos with a breadth you can't get with a normal lens.

Perspective Variation

One of the greatest advantages of wide-angle photography is the ability to capture a wide area in a single photo. If this were the only benefit, though, wide-angle would only be useful for photographing scenery like coral reefs or large animals such as manta rays and whale sharks.
Wide-angle has another great advantage, though: emphasizing perspective. When you get close to your subject, it expands nearby objects and diminishes further objects. It adds a feeling of depth to your photos.

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The same school of fish shown earlier, this time getting closer with a wide-angle lens.

The wide-angle lens makes the foreground jump out for a more dramatic photo. It gives an enhanced feeling of depth and height.

Wide Macro

"Wide macro" sounds like a contradiction in terms. Wide photography captures big scenes; macro photography captures tiny details. How can you do both at the same time? By moving close to your subject with a wide-angle lens.
The wide-angle lens magnifies the close-up subject in the foreground to bring out details, reducing background and providing a sense of depth. The wider the lens, the greater its depth-of-field, so it's possible to capture both the subject in front and its background in clear focus. (Compare that to macro photography with a very narrow depth of field that forces focus to just one part of the image.)

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(c)Masaaki Harada @ Ishigakijima

Wide macro gives your photos an enhanced sense of space. A good wide macro photo goes beyond what you can see with your own eyes, adding an extra feeling of width, depth, volume, and close-up impact. Use it as a powerful tool to capture faces and other prominent subjects.

Let's review wide-angle photography:
Wide-angle photography has two main benefits: it captures a wide area and it emphasizes perspective. Use it to fit in wide seascapes and large animals, but don't forget to get as close as you can for more vivid color and details. Getting very close to your subject gives your photos a sense of volume and close-up impact. It emphasizes foreground, diminishes background, and can keep both foreground and background in focus at the same time. Use it to emphasize perspective.