Sunday, 19 October 2014

Wide Angle Lenses

We have seen that lenses that replicate the view that human eye normally sees are called normal lenses. Wide angle lenses are the ones that have a wider angle of view than normal lens (shorter focal length).

Wide Angle Lens
Wide Angle Lens

Ultra Wide Angle Lenses

Generally lenses in the focal length of about 35mm – 24mm is termed wide angle and the ones that are even wider than 24mm is considered ultra wide angle lenses. In case of point and shoot digital cameras wide angle is when the lens is completely zoomed out, but ultra-wide angle is only possible with a special lens adapter.

Ultra Wide Angle Lens
Ultra Wide Angle Lens

A wide angle lens is a powerful tool in any photographer’s arsenal as it could be used to exaggerate depth and relative size (perspective) in a picture. But to get great results from wide angle lenses is a tough job and to do that one must first learn how to use them right.

Getting it all in

A common misconception most beginner photographers have about wide angle lenses is that they are primarily used when one wants to capture all of the subjects in a single frame and conditions does not permit you to move away from the subject so as to use a lens with a narrower viewing angle.

using wide angle lenses to get the whole picture
using wide angle lenses to get the whole picture

Well it is certainly one of the situations that call for the use of a wide angle lens. But a wide angle lens could do lot more than that. In fact a wide angle lens is commonly used by expert photographers when they want to get really close to their subject. One would wonder why?

it’s because wide angle lenses have a really wide angle of view and they generally have very short minimum focusing distances, meaning you could get really close to a subject and still have it in sharp focus with much of the background also visible thus giving the photographer much choice to play with perspectives. 

Wide Angle Lenses and Perspective

Another common misconception about wide angle lenses is that they affect perspective. But in reality perspective is only influenced by the position of the camera in relation to the subjects. Using wide angle lenses will make you to move much closer to the subject and that does affect perspective and not the lens as such.

wide angle lenses and perspective
wide angle lenses and perspective

With the wider angle of view provided by wide angle lenses, It is possible to make nearby objects to appear gigantic and objects that are further away to appear much smaller and distant. Objects that are further only comprise a much lower fraction of the total angle of view. Photographers use this exaggeration to create emphasis to objects in the foreground while also capturing expansive backgrounds.

However when playing with perspective it is necessary to give attention to certain elements.

  • Get as close to the nearest subject as possible (usually position the nearest object at the nearest focusing distance of the lens).
  • Carefully compose your picture. Extremely close objects can shift by a huge margin with a slight movement of the camera.
  • Take extra caution while photographing people up close with a wide angle lens, else some of their features can become greatly out of proportion.

Converging Vertical Lines

Lenses when they are pointed above or below the horizon cause parallel vertical lines to appear as if they are converging. All lenses does this but the effect is more pronounced in case of wide angle lenses as a vast expanse of lines are visible with a wider angle of view. Also when using a wide angle lens, even minute changes in composition will shift the location of the vanishing point by a huge margin there by altering how sharply lines seem to converge in the image.

How to prevent vertical lines from converging

The best way to prevent vertical lines from converging is by using a tilt shift lens to control perspective. Only problem with them is that they are very specialized piece of gear so they are pricey and to use them, one need technical knowhow to get the desired results.

Aiming your camera closer to the horizon will reduce the effect to a great extent, however you will need to crop your frame later to get the desired perspective meaning you will lose resolution.

You could also move away from the subject and use a lens with a much longer focal length thereby minimizing the effect, however this is not always convenient or even possible and it also alters the perspective.

Finally you can use image editing software such as Photoshop to distort the picture so as to make vertical lines straight. The drawback to this method is also loss of resolution.

Managing Light Across A Wide Angle

When shooting with ultra wide angle lenses, the variation in the intensity of light across an image becomes an important factor. Human eyes will adjust to the changing brightness as we look in different directions, but when determining a photographic exposure much care should be taken as uneven light can cause some parts of the image to be over exposed while leaving some other parts underexposed.

A common example is when photographing a sunset the sky will be much brighter than the water, so if you expose for the sky the water will be under exposed and if you expose for the water sky will be over exposed. To manage differences in light levels like this photographers make use of graduated neutral density filters (GND filter).  Read more about Dynamic Range and Graduated Neutral Density Filters.

Another major concern is lens flare, as the sun is more likely to be in the frame (due to the ultra-wide angle of view). Also it is very difficult to use lens hoods effectively as it should let in image forming light from across a very wide angle.

Using Polarizing Filters with Wide Angle Lenses

The influence of polarizing filters varies depending on the angle of the subject in relation to the sun. A polarizer has maximum effect when the camera is facing at a direction which is 90 degrees from the sun and has minimum effect when the camera is facing either directly into or away from the sun. When shooting with an ultra-wide angle lens, one edge of your frame might be at 90 degrees to the sun where it has maximum polarization effect while the other edge might be facing into or away from the sun where the filter has minimum polarization effect. Thus different degrees of polarization will be visible across a single picture which is undesirable and so it is generally not recommended not to use a polarization filter on wide angle lenses.

Wide Angle lenses and Depth of Field

It is yet another misconception that wide angle lenses produce more depth of field than tele photo lenses. However it is not true, if you magnify your subject by the same amount then both wide angle and telephoto lenses will produce the same depth of field. It’s only that people rarely get as close to their subjects with wide angle lenses as they do with tele photo lenses and this causes the difference in depth of field.

Tips to Get the Most out of your Wide Angle Lenses

Subject Distance

Getting as close to your subject as possible is the critical part, an ultra-wide lens shines when you physically immerse yourselves amongst your subject.


With tele photo lenses it’s the direction which you point the camera that is important but with ultra wide lenses it is the position of the camera that is important. Even slight changes in camera placement could have a huge impact on composition.

Watch your edges 

Carefully watch what’s happening at the edges of the frame at all times.

 Organization - establishing near far relationship

Long lenses compress perspective they seem to squeeze everything from objects very near to objects very far into looking like it's on the same plane. Ultra wide lenses do the opposite they expand the apparent depth of an image by pushing back the background (since you have to get close) and pulling near objects even closer. Carefully place near and far objects to achieve clear compositions.

The Art of Exclusion

Unlike painting, photography is an art of exclusion, if you do not take special care and frame your shots carefully everything gets into the frame irrespective of the fact that whether it is adding value or taking away from the picture.


Be aware of converging verticals at all times, if you wish to avoid it in your pictures make sure you point your camera at the horizon, and if you wish to use the effect be fully aware how its influencing your pictures.


Just like converging lines, be also careful about two of the most common issues with wide angle lenses namely edge and barrel distortion.


An ultra wide lens exaggerates even the slightest misalignment between film plane and subject plane. Be aware of this so that you can use this to your advantage.

Sucked-out Corners

The corners of ultra-wide shots look as if someone printed the image on a rubber sheet and pulled-out the sides and corners. If photographing people, beware that they'll look fat on the sides if, or skinny if they're lying down, since the sucking stretches things towards the edges and especially the corners.

Expanding Space

An ultra wide lens gives you the ability to exaggerate depth, making interiors seem more spacious. It pushes the back wall and everything at a distance further away and thus makes interiors look many times bigger than they actually are.