How and when to use a wide angle lens

example of Exaggeration as a result of a wide angle lens

How and when to use a wide-angle lens

Using a wide-angle lens gives a vigorous depth of field and relative size of the subject. Notably, using an ultra-wide lens exaggerates a photo by manipulating the corresponding size. As a result, it makes the front and back end of your picture look more evocative. So, the wide-angle lens gives photographers a hard time and is the most difficult to use. In this article, you will learn the techniques to help you take advantage of wide-angle lenses.

An image from a 16 mm ultra-wide-angle lens
Example of exaggerated depth from a 16 mm ultra-wide-angle lens

What is a wide-angle lens?

A wide-angle lens is one which its focal length is less than 35 mm on a full-frame camera. Here, it creates a more unnatural perspective as opposed to what our eyes would see. Usually, it translates into an angle of view more significant than 55 degrees in all largest dimensions. To achieve the wide-angle effect for APS-C cameras, use a lens with 65 degrees field of view.

But, for ultra-wide lenses, the focal lengths are below or around 20-24 mm. It is important to note that shorter focal length makes the effects of wide-angle noticeable.

Technically, a fisheye lens belongs to a wide lens category even though the barrel distortion is different. A fisheye lens has an angle of view of around 100 to 180 degrees. Usually, it produces a circular image rather than a rectilinear one because of the lens visual distortion. Fisheye focal length for a full-frame camera falls between 8mm to 10mm. But, smaller sensor cameras have 1mm to 2mm focal length.

fisheye image
Disproportionate body parts caused by a fisheye lens

What makes wide-angle lenses distinctive?

Wide-angle lenses fit well when you need expansive landscapes, large buildings or cramped interiors. Also, an extreme wide-angle generates an artistic and dynamic edge to your shot—for example, sports photography.

Primarily, wide-angle lenses are distinctive from the rest because:

  • Its images embody a wide-angle view
  • It features close least focusing distance

Why you need to choose a wide-angle lens

Many people associate a wide-angle lens to photojournalist work. Well, even you can enjoy ultra-sharp image quality it provides.  In summary, you can apply it to take:

  • A wide-angle of view
  • Photographing architecture
  • Photographing landscape
  • Street Photography

How wide-angle lenses affects images perspective

One feature that makes a wide-angle lens special is the availability of a wide-angle of view. For that, it magnifies both the distance and relative size when comparing near and far objects. As a result, nearby objects will appear wide, while faraway objects seem extraordinarily distant and tiny.

Subject size

Typically, positioning yourself close to your subject allows a favorable condition to handle a wide-angle lens. Here, it creates foreground objects appear immense in the frame, and distant objects tiny. Additionally, wide-angle lenses will exaggerate the distance between objects. As a result, your subject at far reaches will appear away than they are.

Moreover, this exaggeration can help you add emphasis and detail to foreground objects. You’ll still capture expansive backgrounds. You only need to get closer to your subject in the scene.


Back in the days, I used to think of landscape as the epitome type of photography for short focal lengths. In most cases, short focal length was getting me a unique distortion when I’m close to my subjects. For instance, when I take a shot of a person looking slightly down. Here, the lens will often enlarge the forehead and eyes of the person I’m photographing.

In general, the exaggeration difference that occurs in size between near and far objects produce distortion. It makes your subject appear elongated at the front, creating a dynamic, abstract feel. However, it can also result in undesirable effects such as face looking to bloat and bulge.

example of Exaggeration as a result of a wide angle lens
Exaggeration caused by a wide angle lens
Rectilinear vs. Curvilinear construction

Notably, rectilinear is common in most photographic lenses we see around. Usually, straight lines in a scene are replicated in the image as straight lines. However, due to the refraction of light rays, distortion occurs as light passes the lens elements. Here, rectilinear lenses will manifest barrel distortion, mustache distortion, or pincushion distortion.

But, curvilinear lenses exhibit the opposite of rectilinear. Here, it will curve straight lines in an image (barrel distortion). Again, they aren’t restricted to the scene with space. You can take advantage of curvilinear lens distortion to:

  • Shoot up and down tall buildings.
  • Shoot caricature portraits
example of Rectilinear vs. Curvilinear construction
Example of rectilinear vs. curvilinear construction. Photo by

Converging vertical lines

Usually, if you point a wide-angle lens above or below the horizon, a parallel vertical line emerges. These lines will appear as if they are converging. A converging vertical is used to define the effect that occurs when two lines in an image get closer. A good example is two sides of a building getting more intimate as if they lean in towards each other.

Additionally, small changes in a composition can change the location of the horizon. It is true with a wide-angle lens as it creates a big difference in sharp lines appearing to converge. Converging lines are undesirable when working with architectural photography. But, they are a valuable asset for accentuating depths and perspectives.  

Example of converging vertical in a building
Example of converging vertical- Camera aimed above the horizon

How to overcome converging vertical

  • Enhance it. Use a wide-angle lens to get closer to your subject (structure).
  • Minimize it. Move further back from the subject.
  • Change lenses. Use control/tilt lenses to control perspective.
  • Correct it. Use a photo editing software such as adobe lightroom.

Interior and enclosed places

A wide-angle lens will thrive in interior and enclosed places compared to a standard lens. The later will not allow you to move far enough away from your subject to capture all scenes. In most cases, this is applicable when taking shots of indoor architecture and interior rooms. You can take advantage of a wide-angle lens in such a scenario where you have to be closer to the subject.   

Polarizing filters

Most photographers see polarizing filters as one of the essential tools for landscape photography. In particular, a polarizing filter will spice up your shots by adding vividness and contrast. Here, they will deepen the blue sky, and add textures to blown-out highlights.

Polarizing filters do counteract with the natural glare of sunlight well and good for outdoor shots. But, it is advisable to avoid using it with a wide-angle lens. It makes some parts of the frame more polarizing effects relative to the other.

A polarizer will manifest its effects depending on the angle of your subject to the sun. For instance, having your camera face where the sun is coming from at 90 degrees maximizes its effect. Likewise, facing your camera towards the sun cut its effect.

You have two classes of polarizing lenses you can pick.

  • Circular. Suitable for a DSLR camera with autofocus.
  • Linear. Suitable for video cameras or manual focus.

Controlling light with GND filters

Heads up!

You come across substantial variation in the intensity of light across your image.

What is that!

In most cases, using a wide-angle lens cause that variation. Here, you’ll find out that many exposure results in uneven light distribution. Some parts of your image will be overexposed, whereas others underexposed. 

When doing landscape photography, the sky is more lit than the foreground foliage. The outcome you get is the overexposed sky and an underexposed foreground. In effect, photographers do use what is known as graduated neutral density (GND) filter. It helps to overcome such an even lighting distribution.  

How to use GDN filters.

3 Types of GND filters

  • Hard-edge filters. They feature a clear boundary where the transition from dark to clear is noticeable. Best when taking landscape photography at longer focal lengths above 70mm. They perform well also in areas such as a seascape or the horizon at sea.
  • Soft edge filters. They feature a smooth transition from dark to clear where change itself is not noticeable. Here, it’s best suitable for landscape photos wide-angle lens or ultra-wide lenses. Again, they perform well where landscape rises above the horizon line, such as trees and mountains.
  • Reverse filters. It is a version of hard-edge GND filters that is darker in the middle than on the edges of your photos. They are better at managing sunrise and sunsets shots. Suitable for taking seascapes shots.

Wide-angle lens and depth of field

False: A wide-angle lens has a greater depth of field.

Fact: Many photographers believe a wide-angle lens has a greater depth of field, which is not valid. Notably, a wide-angle lens improves the depth of field because its usage is more often. Practically, you’ll realize that the degree of unsharpness is the same for a wide-angle lens and telephoto.

Tips for shooting using a wide-angle lens

  • Subject distance. Since a wide-angle lens exaggerates the relative sizes of a far and near subject, get closer to the foreground. It will enable you to emphasize its effect. Again, they have closer minimum focusing distances. Here, they will allow you to see a lot in tight spaces.
  • Organization. Assemble near and far objects for a great formation. Usually, taking shots with a wide-angle often revolves around many subject matters. As a result, the viewer finds himself lost in confusion. The best solution is to experiment with different techniques by organizing your subject matter.
  • Perspective. It is crucial to avoid converging vertical by pointing your camera at the horizon. Here, you need to be extra careful when dealing with trees or architecture with converging verticals.
  • Distortion. You must be worried about edge and barrel distortion because it influences your subject. Straight lines can appear bulge as a result of not passing through the center of the image causing barrel distortion. But, when objects at the far end of the frame appear stretched, they cause edge distortion. Barrel and edge distortion are some of the most common forms of distortion in a wide-angle lens.



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