By Patrick Lucas Austin
October 10, 2019

In case you haven’t noticed, today’s smartphones are now pulling double duty as digital cameras. And that’s not just because of better sensors or new software tricks — phones like the iPhone 11 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ literally have multiple lenses to choose from, giving you options when capturing an image the way you want it.

The newest addition to today’s smartphones, the all-encompassing ultrawide lens, can be intimidating to learn how to use. Sure, you’re no doubt ready to snap shots of the first skyscraper, mountain peak, or perfect sunset you find. But before you run off filling up your phone with warped subjects, noisy backgrounds, or random detritus, here are a few pointers from pro photographers to keep in mind while you point and shoot with a wide-angle lens.

Get Those Edges Together, Girl

If you’ve already snapped a few ultrawide shots, there’s probably one thing you’ve noticed right off the bat: All that crud around your photo’s edges. Don’t lament when you can simply adjust. “Be really careful about what is in the edge of the frame, because it will always be distorted,” says Tyler Stalman, who runs a photo and video production company with his wife, Ania Boniecka. Whether it’s street lights, innocent bystanders, or your own two feet, not accounting for all those formerly hidden obstructions can quickly rob your image of its intended impact.

Put Your Subject Front and Center

Who doesn’t love a good off-center image? No one, that’s who. Unfortunately, ultrawide shots don’t quite play well with subjects that aren’t centered, and can leave them looking a little too lanky for comfort. On a smartphone like the iPhone 11, that 120-degree ultrawide lens will suffer from that same off-center issue. “

In order to adapt to this, try placing the subjects right in the middle of the photo to avoid it being stretched too much,” says YouTuber and photographer Jason “Smashpop” Goh. “By placing the subject in the middle, it also creates the illusion that the space around it is very vast.”

Keep Your Distance, Keep Your Focus

That ultrawide lens might see almost everything your eyeballs can, but keeping it all in focus is another story. “It’s just fixed at infinity, kind of like a disposable camera would be.” says Stalman. Unless you’re deliberately shooting at weird angles to capture a certain perspective, keeping your distance from your subject is your best bet for images that are truly in focus. “If your subject comes closer than about 1 meter from the camera you might not only end up with some exaggerated wide angle distortion, but they might go out of focus too,” Stalman says.

Architecture Is Your Friend

If there’s one thing ultrawide lenses are good at, it’s really nailing the imposing nature of any architectural marvel (or even your ho-hum office building). “Try to capture and portray the height of a building or the spaciousness of the interior,” says Smashpop. “Since the scene is wide, humans tend to look smaller in these shots. Take advantage of that by getting someone to casually walk or pose in the photo to create the ‘minimal people’ effect with the surroundings of spacious architecture or interior.”

Night Shooting Is a No-No

Smartphones like the iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S10 have incorporated “night mode” photography into their camera capabilities, letting you get vastly improved images in low-light situations by holding your phone still for an extra second or three. But unlike the traditional wide angle on the iPhone 11, Night Mode shooting is a no-go on the ultrawide lens. “The ultrawide lens has an aperture of f/2.4, hence is it not a very bright lens,” says Smashpop (the lower a lenses’ aperture number, the more light they can let in, brightening up your low-light shots). “Try to limit the usage of the ultrawide to daytime or at brightly lit locations.” Compared to the wide angle lens and its f/1.8 aperture, that ultrawide lens won’t help you much when the sun goes down.

Panorama Shots are Even Wider

If you want to capture the majesty of that forest landscape you’re staring at, or need to show your friends just how, uh, huge, your new college dorm room is, you can’t go wrong with a panoramic shot. Still not enough image for your liking? “Now we can include more into every panorama shot when we swipe across the scenery using the iPhone,” says Smashpop. Perfect! That ultrawide lens, paired with your smartphone’s Panorama shooting mode, can make for some incredibly encompassing images. Just be sure to keep yourself steady, and aligned with the image guides, or else you’ll have to contend with some choppy-looking sections of your ultrawide panorama shot.

Look for Lines

Since the ultrawide lens on the iPhone 11 gives you a wide field of view, and your photo a slightly warped look, you can use that to your advantage during composition. Any straight lines in your scene can become critical elements if you know how to capture them properly. “We can use lines in our scenes to create a warp illusion, or leading lines which guides the audience’s eyes to the subject,” says Jason. “Tilt the phone so that straight lines are curved to create dramatic scenes or simple just align the camera to grids, fences, or brick walls to use those lines to your advantage.”

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com.

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