How to Use a Wide Angle Lens for Outdoor Portraits

When it comes to portrait photography, wide angle lenses aren’t the natural choice. Longer, faster lenses are preferred by portrait photographers for their suppressed distortion and soft bokeh. Wide angle lenses, to be fair to them, can also be very useful when it comes to shooting portraits. They offer a sense of place that’s often missing with telephoto lenses. Wide angle lenses have other advantages as well:

As Rishi Sanyal explains,

“The slight distortion you get from shooting close-up at 35mm is similar to what we experience when we view loved ones up-close. In essence, you get a shot that feels like you are standing right there with the subject.”

Advantages of using wide angle lenses in portraiture

Up-close and personal

Any outdoor wide angle portraiture attempt requires a few considerations. The location, the lens, and the lighting.

“The first consideration of wide-angle portraiture is choosing your location. In this case, I’m looking for something that’s west-facing so we have the option of capturing the sunset behind the subject.”

outdoor portraits using wide angle lenses

Backlit portrait using the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art lens

“The second consideration is your lens. When choosing a lens I want something that’s wide. But, not so wide as to create extreme distortion. I also want something fast enough to isolate the subject.”

Sanyal uses a Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art lens.

For lighting Sanyal mixes natural golden hour light with strobes.

mixing strobe and ambient light for outdoor portrait

Ambient light mixed with strobe

Wide Angle Portrait Tips

  • It’s important to keep in mind how close you are to a subject and the focal length you’re using. With a wide angle lens, if the subject is too far to the edge of the frame, distortions will kick in.
  • If you shoot too close to the subject while s/he is just about to the center of the frame, facial features will be distorted. Some facial distortion, as has been already pointed out, can produce a really intimate feel.
  • Turn your subject away from the sun to produce beautiful backlit portraits.
wide angle lens portraiture

Outdoor natural light portrait with a wide-angle lens

  • Mix strobes to balance the ambient light to produce nice looking portraits even in low light.

Do you ever shoot portraits with a wide angle lens?

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