Why I Like Wide
I'm a portrait photographer who uses wide-angle lenses a lot. These are two things that are not supposed to go together very well. If you're up close wide-angle lenses can tend to distort and accentuate people's features for example. And sometimes not for the better. That said, I think they get a bad rap. As I wrote a few months ago, that distortion can be interesting. Let me say here that I'm not suggesting super-wide like some of these 15mm, 17mm kinds of focal lengths. To me, those are special purpose lenses which are so obvious about themselves that they take you out of the image and make you think about how it was taken too much. Ok, end mini-rant.
But even if you're not that wide and not getting that close, they give you a perspective that is much more cinematic in scope. My entire Drabbles series for example, was shot with the same 28mm prime which is my 'go to' lens when I'm in doubt. Just back up a few feet and you can get the subject and a lot of their surroundings in the shot, which can give them a place in their environment instead of just blurring out everything more than 6 inches behind their heads. Take some chances and put down that 70-200 zoom for like 10 minutes. It may be a bit more difficult to find meaning full or interesting backgrounds, but I think the effort is well worth it.
All that said, I don't think the look is the real reason I like to shoot people with wide-angle glass. I was shooting my friend Jess a few weeks ago and Heather was off to the side and I pulled off the 85mm/1.2 which wasn't doing anything for me and put the 28 back on. Rhetorically I said, "I wonder why I keep going back to the 28?" and Heather said, "Because you like being close to your subject" <light bulb> I think that's exactly it. Because you tend to be closer, you have a more intimate shoot, and I think that goes a long way to making the subject feel more relaxed. The trick is not to get too close to their face so they don't get claustrophobic.
And for god's sake, keep talking to them while you shoot. There's nothing more awkward to a nervous sitter than a silent photographer. If you're doing it right, photographing people should either be one of two ways. Either you and they are in total sync and making beautiful art together. Or the picture taken should feel secondary from their point of view, as if you're having a chat and one of you just so happens to have a camera in your hand.