How to Isolate Your Subject ... With a Wide-Angle!

by Kerry Drager

A telephoto is rightly known as the go-to lens for zeroing in tight on distant subjects. But while a wide-angle focal length boasts a story-telling quality - i.e., its unique ability to combine nearby objects with far-away scenes - the wide-angle can do sooooo much more. By putting your feet to work and physically moving in close, you can simplify your scene, isolate your subject, and use the sky as a simple-yet-colorful backdrop!

photographic composition: Rooster on Truck
From a Distance with a Telephoto

© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Thoughts on Before Image ...

The accompanying Rooster-on-Truck series was a fun little project, involving an old 1942 Dump Truck and a metal rooster sculpture at my California ranchette. I wanted a photo that captured all of the rooster, a portion of the truck, and some of the blue sky. And, as often the case, I shot the scene in beautiful light ... late day.

I first tried photographing the scene from a distance with a telephoto, as shown in Before. And while I could fit both of my main focal points nicely within the frame, the background was just a bit too distracting ... barn and tree top competing with rooster and truck. A wider aperture (lower f/number) would have blurred out the background more, especially coupled with a slightly tighter (zoomed-more-in) composition. But for me, there were other issues too. For example, the lower part of the sky was a pale blue, while the fairly straightforward viewpoint lacked the fun aspect and the visual energy that I had envisioned.

using a wide-angle lens: Rooster on Truck
Up Close with a Wide-Angle

© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Thoughts on After Image ...

My solution was to revisit the scene in early evening on another sunny day. I switched to a wide-angle (my 12-24mm zoom) for this re-shoot, and then moved in super close to the truck (within an arm's length of the closest point). I also kneeled down for a low camera perspective. As a result, in both After images (shot on different days), I was able to place both the rooster and truck against a more beautiful higher-up part of the sky ... a perfect background! No filter used, no filter needed ... just the warm and low-angled sunlight of late day.

By the way, I chose slanted viewpoints for two of the "After" images for a couple of verrrrry good reasons:

  1. I thought the tilted angle added a certain energy to my photo - with diagonal lines often more visually dynamic than straight-up-and-down ones.

  2. With the low sun mostly behind me and by shooting a wide-angle close-up, my shadow kept getting into my picture. But by tilting my camera, I was able to photograph this scene without my shadow "invading" the picture space!

AFTER 2:<br>Same Rooster,<br>Different Truck
Same Rooster,
Different Truck

© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Additional Photo Credit Goes ...

... to my wife, Mary, for providing the "props" and the idea for this concept! She gave me an abandoned 1942 Ford Dump Truck for a gift a few Christmases ago - as a photo opportunity for our small ranch and as a ranch "decoration". Then, she recently gave me the metal rooster sculpture. And when she saw a real live rooster atop a truck at a neighbor's ranch the other day, she said: "Hey, Kerry, why don't you do that with your rooster on your old truck?" So I did!

AFTER 3:<br>Rooster Atop<br>Old Truck
Rooster Atop
Old Truck

© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

More on Kerry Drager...

Check out Kerry's Premium Gallery bio, his Deluxe Web Site , and his online courses here at BetterPhoto:

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

Be sure to check out Kerry's website -

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.