Are You Using Your Wide Angle Lens Correctly?
December 13, 2013
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They're short, lightweight and often a photographer's go-to lens. But the way you use a wide angle lens can do more harm than good to your images. Whether you use an ultrawide 12mm prime fisheye lens or a modest 17-35mm wide angle zoom lens, there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to capture your subject.
When to Use a Wide Angle Lens
These lenses photograph sweeping landscapes beautifully. They make it possible to capture a mountain from base to peak in a single frame, or preserve tall statues in narrow spaces in pixel format forever. You can also capture dozens of athletes on a sports team using a wide angle lens. But you need to know how to get the most out of your lens:
- Subjects on the perimeter of the frame tend to have a curved, stretched appearance. This phenomenon, called barrel distortion, makes people look wider and heavier than they are in real life. It also makes perfectly straight architecture appear bowed or leaning. So mind the edges of your photographs.
- A wide angle lens is perfect for photographing subjects in small spaces, such as a tiny apartment or hallway. Just stand back far enough so that everything is included in the frame. But the same rule applies—keep the people in the center third of the frame to avoid distortion.
- Whether you're shooting a colorful field of sunflowers or a tractor tilling the land at sunset, a wide angle view captures more of the scene than a standard midrange lens. For these sweeping panoramas, a 24mm lens is perfect.
When to Avoid a Wide Angle Lens
Sometimes midrange (35mm-75mm) or telephoto lenses (75mm and longer) are a better choice than your trusty wide angle. Although lenses with focal lengths longer than 35mm are not considered wide angle, they reduce distortion at the edge of the image frame and make it easier to get close-up photos.
Leave the wide angle lens in the camera bag when photographing the following:
- Portraits of one individual or a group of five or fewer people
- A scene in which you intend to blur the background
- Subjects you want to appear closer in a photo than you could actually see in real life
- Sports action from the sidelines of a field or court
How do you use your wide angle lenses? Please share your lens tips and tricks in the comments below.
Photo credit: Stock.xchng