Photography / Tips and Solutions

3 Quick Tips for Shooting Close-ups with Extreme Wide-Angle Lenses

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Close-ups taken with wider-angle lenses also expose subtle detail, but by framing your subject in its surroundings, you also create a narrative to go along with the visual detail. “Normal” macro photographs expose detail, ultra-wide-angle close-ups tell stories.

Photographs © Allan Weitz

Macro photography is fascinating in the way it enables us to focus on the kind of subtle details we seldom notice otherwise. Sometimes the most mundane subjects can become fascinating when viewed at life size or greater.

Cobblestones photographed from about 2" from the front lens element of a Zeiss 21mm f/4.5 C Biogon T* ZM with Voigtlander VM-E Close-Focus Adapter

Something I’ve long been fascinated by is the way small items can appear monumental when captured close-up through ultra-wide-angle lenses. In my book, the ultra-wide threshold begins with lenses with angles of view of 90°, which on a full-frame 35mm camera is about 21mm.

Corner of fencepost, Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Asph III with Voigtlander VM-E Close-Focus Adapter

What I’ve always found visually jolting about photographs taken at such close range with these lenses is how visually dynamic the main subject becomes when viewed against its surroundings. Midrange and longer focal length macro lenses expose the finer details of your subject, but they limit your perspective solely to the subject itself.

Safety treadle, Manhattan sidewalk, Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Asph III with Voigtlander VM-E Close-Focus Adapter

The accompanying photographs aren’t true macro images, i.e., life size. Most are closer to approximately 1:4. Nonetheless, the magnification ratios of these photographs are much greater than the native close-focusing distances of the lenses.

1. Get Low and Get Close

Wide-angle lenses demand strong foregrounds or backgrounds—without them, your eye wanders aimlessly across the viewing field. For this reason, I often resort to shooting wider-angle close-ups at ground level or, depending on the photograph, by positioning the camera against a wall, tree, or other surface. Needless to say, the tilt-screen on my Sony A7R II comes in extremely handy when shooting in this manner.

Detail, old horse-drawn carriage, Zeiss 16mm/f8 Hologon T* with Voigtlander VM-E Close-Focus Adapter

2. Alignment Matters

Camera alignment is crucial for macro photography. Depth of field is exceptionally shallow even when stopped down to smaller f-stops, and even the slightest tilt up, down, right, or left can dramatically alter the perspective and composition of the picture. When shooting extreme wide-angle close-ups, I strongly advise playing around with camera position because even the slightest changes in POV can dramatically change the visual dynamics of the photograph.

3. Support Needed

Of course, use a tripod of similar camera support whenever possible. Tabletop tripods are great for this type of photography.

Detail of construction-zone fence, Midtown Manhattan taken with Zeiss 16mm/f8 Hologon T* with Voigtlander VM-E Close-Focus Adapter

These photographs were taken with Sony A7-series cameras and a Zeiss 21mm f/4.5 C Biogon T* ZM (90° AoV), a Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Asph III (110° AoV), and a Zeiss 16mm/f8 Hologon T* lens. To focus closer than the native close focusing distances of these lenses (12-18”), I used a Voigtlander VM-E Close-Focus Adapter, which incorporates a 4mm close-focusing helicoid that enables notably closer focusing when using Leica M-mount lenses on Sony E-mount cameras.

Detail of cornerstone, Midtown Manhattan, Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Asph III with Voigtlander VM-E Close-Focus Adapter

Have you used ultra-wide-angle lenses for extreme close-ups? If you have, we’d like to hear about your experiences, and maybe send us a picture or two!

2 Comments

This discussion's objectives could be better exemplified with more interesting subjects. I find an endless supply of compositions in my vegetable and flower gardens, for example. An even wider variety of subject samples wouldn't hurt either - a facial study of a person with a noncompeting background (in or out of focus) is an ideal assignment, 2D perspectives with a point of interest (bug on a brick wall) are always fun, etc.

Great subject I am also currently pursuing with Samyang's 12/2 manual prime, but this article needs some work...

The usual macro-magic is magnifying an insect to reveal its complexity, even its beauty. In these images your eye picks out the part in focus, which isn't interesting in most of the images. As the author says, you wouldn't normally notice it. In an out of focus context without strong or surprising design elements it's still not worth noticing.

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