Ryu: Open wide

Hello there.
I’m in London at the moment for a wedding shoot. No, no, no. I’ve not given up on sports photography, but when you get an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, you grab it. Especially when they fly you in and they pay you for your work. :)

Before I left, I went through all the lenses that I want to bring for this wedding shoot. I ended up taking 2 x fisheye, 14-24, 24-70, and a 70-200. As you might have figured out at this juncture in our relationship, I am a sucker for wide angles. I have no idea where this fascination comes from, but I cannot get enough of wide angle lenses. If money wasn’t an objective, I’d totally get this lens (Nikon 6mm f2.8 fisheye) and shoot all the sports available on this planet. But then, I have neither the fund nor the access to such a beast, so I shoot with what I have. Poor me.

Sports photography is sold as a genre of photography where one must shoot with a 400 2.8 and 1900 f0.5. All you see are shots taken with the long ones and we are conditioned to want to shoot with these lenses. But there is no guarantee that by using the long lens you will end up with a Pulitzer Prize sports photo. Except for my wet dream 6mm f2.8, most wide angle lenses are cheaper than tele lenses. Which means that good wide angle lenses are more affordable than a good tele lens. Therefore we should all shoot sports with wide angle lenses. Yes, we should and my logic is never flawed.

There are two distinct ways in shooting with a wide angle lens: far and close. I went through my shots from this year (2013, in case you are reading this in 2015) and came up with some samples of each.

The main subject is not close to you, but far away from you. Therefore you get a shot that encompasses everything. Like a landscape shot. This technique is used when you see something in the environment that you want to incorporate into the picture. Sunset over a stadium. Crowds in the stands. Also showing the enormity of the place where the game is going on. These shots put the viewer inside the photo and make them feel like they want to be there Unlike a long lens shot, you will really need to think about composition. Tiny mistakes at the composition stage will most likely make you cry later, so be patient and precise when composing. Don’t worry about the exposure that much since the subject is so far away, there won’t be much DOF issues. Here are some samples.

Wide2 Wide1 Wide3

From my experience, you can take time shooting wide angle shots because the subject is so far away. Put it this way, the subject is the entire frame. Individual athletes in it will not make or break the shot. For instance with the ping pong shot, I shot the same composition for about 10 minutes, hoping to catch a good moment. But what I care most was the composition and not what the ping pongers were doing. What I wanted to show was two athletes duking it out in a very big empty arena.

The main subject is very close to you. You should be able to smell them and lick their eyeballs (all the rage in Japan). Just a fact that security is so tough at professional sporting events these days, it’s not easy to get close to them. Hence the rise in long lenses, I guess. But if you are shooting amateurs, you can get as close as you want. Hence, I have no idea why we don’t get more shots of close up wide angles in any of our competitions. Hencing, done.

I’d leave the camera to aperture priority or shutter speed priority and let the camera worry about exposure. You, you worry about focusing. The point of getting close wide angle shots is to get as low as possible. Therefore you are not going to be lying down on your belly. No, you are going to shoot without looking through your viewfinder. If your camera has a live view on the LCD, I’d use it, but this is only useful when your subject is not moving. When they move, you go one handed. You’ll need to take some practice shots to determine composition and trust that the camera will do its job in focusing. This no look focusing is not easy as 1-2-3. You need to practice (Practice?) to get the feel of where and how your camera focuses. So get on it. The point is to get as close as possible to the subject. If they hadou-ken you after you get the shot, you win. But please don’t try this with people or vehicles that can harm you permanently. BLFS condones bravery but not stupidity.

If you manage to execute a close up wide angle shot to perfection, you will certainly wow your friends and butlers. Guaranteed.

WideLow6 WideLow4 WideLow3 WideLow1

Bonus: Fish Eye
Go wide and distort my friends. Since it’s so distorted, you just have to love it. I recently got a circular fisheye and I’ve got plans for this baby. Same rules for far and close with the fisheyes as well, but make sure you know how close you are to the subject when you shoot. It’s that “Object may be appear closer than you think” when you’re using this lens through a viewfinder. Try not to bump into the athletes.

Fisheye2 Fisheye1

Wide angle is underrated in sports photography. It is a shame because it creates such dramatic look that can only be matched with a wider lens. If you are shooting amateur sports where the access is crazy super cool, you have no excuse not to shoot wide angle.

So, go wide, young (and old) BLFSers.


*Please Read Below*
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7 thoughts on “Ryu: Open wide

  1. A top article. I was planning some wide angle motorsports this weekend with my 11-16. There are places you can get really close without being killed! Enjoy London, wedding photography indeed, you turncoat!

    1. Mike,

      I do need to occasionally turn my coat in order to make ends meet. But then it’s not too bad, as long as it requires me to push buttons on a black box. Hope you got some good shots and I’m assuming you put them up on TG and/or YW?

      1. Sure did, there’s one invited shot on TG with another wide shot and a more recent wide shot on YW. Looking forward to the comments as usual.

  2. Shooting close up sounds very challenging, especially when your subject is moving or you aren’t sure how far away your subject will be when they show up. Would you use continuous auto-focus and hope for the best? If you do know where the subject will be when they show up, would you manually pre-focus and then lock it in? Thanks in advance.

    1. As a dad of two hyperactive teenagers – soccer being their primary sport – I’ve been asking about and trying all these techniques for a while, and am still searching for the right answers… In talking with experts, they use different focusing tricks for different sports and types of play. Would love it if Ryu and Matt shared their insights on this but don’t know how to ask (I’m new to this forum)…

      1. Gregxev,

        First of all, you asked the right way. This or the flickr group is where you should be asking these brain busting questions. Now, you are talking about football. Why don’t you do a search on our site to see how many posts come up with football/soccer. There are quite a lot. Read them and if you still are having problems, please let us know. But please be more specific than “can’t focus”. :)

    2. Steelio,

      If you can follow your subject with your legs, then just keep on pressing the AF button. That’s why I’m a big advocate of AF button NOT being the shutter release. If you know where your subject is going to be (ie you know where a dude in a 100m race is going to be), then pre focus and wait for them to show up at your focal range. You should also practice no-look focus as well.

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