Ultra-wide-angle lenses are typically associated with portrait photography. In fact, most people will specifically avoid them for portraits, casting them out as “useless”. But this video, part of a series called The Focal Length Challenge by Becki and Chris, looks at how we can take advantage of an ultra-wide 16mm lens in order to shoot effective portraits.
Typically, when a lens with such a wide angle is used for portraits it’s usually for creative effect. It allows you to provide some context for what’s going on around the subject. Perhaps it’s to exaggerate foreground objects with your subject behind – as in the noodles example shown in the video. Sometimes it can be used to create a more surreal look of the subject in the world around them, like the photo for the video at the top of this page.
Sometimes, though it can be used to simply create environmental portraits that show off the landscape or world in which your subject exists, with your subject far enough away from the lens that they’re fully represented in the image along with the world around them, and several examples of this are also shown.
If the subject is too close, obviously you can get some pretty crazy unwanted perspective distortion, too, which is why many people avoid them, preferring something closer to a more traditional 85mm for portraits. But as demonstrated in the video, an ultra-wide can be your friend, too.
So, can you shoot portraits with a 16mm or another wide-angle lens? Yes, absolutely. Are they going to be the best for every portrait situation? Well, no. There’s no focal length that’s ideal for every situation. That’s why we have options.