10 Tips on Using a Wide Angle Lens

Universe of Energy in Epcot, Walt Disney World, Florida.  Taken with an Ultra Wide Angle Lens at 10mm.

Universe of Energy in Epcot, Walt Disney World, Florida. Taken with an Ultra Wide Angle Lens at 10mm.

Guest Blog article by Justin Miller.

Ultra-wide angle lenses, referred to as UWA, can offer a unique, sometimes challenging, often rewarding view of the world for photographers.  Many of us have faced that limitation where we can’t quite fit a whole subject into our frame – we’ve backed up as far as we could, but we’re stuck with a cropped subject or a stitched panorama to try to get the whole scene in.  A wide angle lens can give us those extra few feet on either side we need.  A UWA lens takes it in the other direction.  You can find yourself surprised, even shocked, at how wide the view is.  Instead of being backed up against a fence trying to squeeze everything into the shot, you keep inching closer and closer to your subject, thinking that you can’t get any closer without bumping into it, yet it’s all still comfortably in your frame.  In one way, it’s like a whole new kind of photography, and requires some rethinking and relearning to accommodate the unique perspective of the lens.

UWA lenses are generally those that provide a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 24mm or less.  On an APS-C crop-sensor camera, generally this would be 16mm or less.  There are two types of lenses in this focal range – rectilinear and fisheye.  For this article, I’m referring to rectilinear lenses, which renders straight lines without the curvature familiar to the fisheye look.

I am far from an expert on the subject, and experimentation and practice are strongly encouraged to discover the potential of such a lens in your hands, and with your vision.  My own experimentation’s have given me some ideas of how to get fun or interesting results from these lenses.  Hopefully, by sharing them with you, might spark your creative juices or give you a starting point if you’re new to UWA lenses.

Here are My 10 Favorite UWA Shooting Tips

1. Shoot level with the horizon –

Rectilinear UWAs are very good at keeping vertical and horizontal lines straight, but only when the camera is pointed straight ahead.  Any slight downward or upward angle can result in very distorted lines and strange perspectives.  Keeping the camera level with the horizon, and perpendicular, will provide nice, straight lines that require little or no correction in post processing.

2. Shoot un-level with the horizon –

Once you know how lines get distorted when not perpendicular and level, you can learn how to use it for desired effect.  Curved vertical lines can make structures look large or imposing, or small and distant; curved lines can create movement in a composition, and add visual interest and artistic style, or create forced perspectives and skewed scale.

3. Be cognizant of leading lines -

With UWAs, compositions can work out very nicely when you can get a nice long line or two to lead the eye from the corner of the frame into the shot, or out from the center, providing visual interest and walking the viewer’s eyes through a scene.  Watch for roof lines, curbs, branches, roadway edges, sidewalks, or any other objects that can be used for leading lines.

4. Stop down and get close –

UWAs are particularly effective in putting foreground objects right up close, and still show lots of background. You can put yourself right up on top of signs, statues, lights, etc so they fill a big chunk of the frame, and the UWA will still pull in a big sweeping background like buildings, trees, or landscapes. UWAs have a larger depth of field already, so stopping down the aperture will allow you to get it all in focus.  And UWAs are particularly sensitive to large expanses of nothing.  Foreground subjects fill in the dead space in the composition and provide greater depth and dimension to the scene.

5. Don’t put people in the corners –

If you want to keep people as your friends, watch that you don’t put them into the far right or left edges of a UWA shot. Because of the rectilinear design – UWAs are relatively straight throughout the middle of the frame, then drastically curve at the far ends. So things in the middle are appropriate proportions, but as you get near the ends, things stretch and get wider. It’s hardly noticeable with landscapes, buildings, etc – but with people, it’s VERY noticeable. And not too many people like to look wider and shorter than they are!

6. Watch out for invaders –

Because of the extremely wide perspective of UWA lenses, it’s very easy to inadvertently include something in the composition you didn’t intend.  You have to be very aware of the corners and ends of your shot when setting up, and give yourself a wide berth.  People you thought would be out of the frame can sometimes end up in a UWA shot, as can pets, your camera bag, your shadow, tripod legs, roof eaves, overhanging branches, etc.  A little extra vigilance can prevent unwanted invaders.

7. Get low -

UWA compositions can be particularly effective when they are shot from a low angle – you can include much of the ground in front of you to guide you up to the subject. With a garden as a foreground, or a fountain or small pond…you have an interesting subject to lead you back to the horizon, or you force perspective.  Because of the extreme width of a UWA lens, you can shoot from very low, close-to-the-ground angles and still fit tall subjects and skies into the frame.

8. Take advantage of big skies –

When the sky has clouds in it, UWAs really shine. Get close to your subject, fill 1/3 or 1/2 of the frame with it, and shooting with a nice sky backdrop, let those cloudy skies fill up the rest of the frame. Shooting upwards can work really well with these…the clouds take on a dimensionality, streaking out and around your subject dramatically.  And because of the curvature in the corners, clouds often seem to be in motion in your shots.

9. Don’t be afraid of the dark –

UWAs can be quite a lot of fun to shoot with at night.  When used on a tripod, they can give long-exposure night scenes a lot of pop with that great wide perspective and catch quite a bit of scenery, starry sky, or landscape to enhance your shot.  However, even though these lenses are rarely much faster than F2.8-4, the small focal length tends to lessen the affect of shake or movement, allowing these lenses to be hand-held at fairly long exposures compared to longer lenses.  That means dusk or evening hand-held shots, or wide interiors, are surprisingly possible even without stabilization or a tripod.

10. Go vertical –

UWA lenses can be particularly useful for portrait orientation shots – when dealing with very tall subjects, or wanting a feet-to-sky perspective.  For example, a 10mm lens in the vertical orientation will still be providing a horizontal field of view of around 77 degrees, roughly the same as a 24mm lens in landscape orientation.  In other words, an ultra-wide angle lens is still a wide angle lens vertically.

There are plenty of rectilinear UWA lenses to choose from, including models by most major manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax & Sony all have at least one) as well as third party players Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina for most mounts.  They can be a lot of fun, open up new styles of photography, and help get the shot in tight spaces or large subjects.  Some of these tips may help, some you may already know…but most importantly, get out there and experiment!

Popular Wide Angles Lenses recommended by Scott Thomas Photography:

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX Wide Angle Zoom

Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM AF Zoom Lens

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41 Responses to 10 Tips on Using a Wide Angle Lens

  1. Kanniduba says:

    This is an area I really shy away from. I always think my wide angle shots look cluttered and my backgrounds distracting. These shots are beautiful and I think these are terrific hints. Thanks! Maybe I will make wide angles my summer focus.

  2. milkayphoto says:

    WOW – fantastic and well written article, Justin! I know I DO NOT use my wide-angle lenses enough and you have given me 10 good reasons why I SHOULD be! Nice to meet another WDW fan! :D Such great tips and photos examples. Well done and thank you!

  3. Great tips! I really, really NEED a wide angle!

  4. Sean Kane says:

    Thank you for sharing, Justin. I haven’t ever used a wide-angle lens, but this sure gets me wanting to do it and gives me a great grounding for how to effectively use it. Thanks!

  5. Many thanks for the comments. I’d definitely encourage those with a UWA lens to get out and play with it, and those without who are looking for a new spin on their photography to consider one. I too have occasionally neglected a lens for a bit, then rediscover it and kick myself for letting it sit in the bag unused for too long. My Tamron 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 UWA has been getting a frequent workout for me on my past few trips – some days up at Disney I forced myself to walk the parks with only this lens to try to see the park in a different way and shoot a different style. The challenge was rewarding and fun, and now the lens gets regular duty in rotation with my other lenses.

  6. Michelle says:

    Thanks for the tips!!!
    They are very helpful!!

  7. june says:

    I will come back to this definitely when I own my first wide lens. Excellent post!

  8. morningjoy says:

    Essential information. I don’t own a wide angle lens yet, but I’ll keep these 10 suggestions in mind for that day when I have one. Your accompanying photos helped me to see the value of each suggestion. Great blog!

  9. davecandoit says:

    I love wide angle shots. Some great info here, thanks. I really like #2, #4, #7, & #10. This makes me want to pick up a Canon 10-22mm lens.

  10. Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead says:

    I bought my fist wide angle yesterday (10-24mm, rectilinear);I am a complete DSLR beginner. Well, with the advantage of having nothing to unlearn, and the disadvantage that my shots are meant for a book I am writng. Justin, your shots are fantabulous! I say so because NOW I realise all the work which goes into a shot that has both composition and story. I have one sincere reproach though:You do not indicate the camera settings and filters used. Still, my basketsful of gratitude for the inspiration.
    Tiberman – Mauritius; the island with gorgeous ‘blue’ light throughout the year.

  11. Tiberman, many thanks for the compliments and comments. Sorry I’ve been away on vacation for the previous week (at Disney, as it happens!) and just noticed the additional comments here. I apologize on the camera settings missing – it was my first article linking photos, and I have just taken for granted that I always include my EXIF data in my gallery, and didn’t really consider that it might not be available in this article. If you do have the chance to check my gallery, I have one subgallery called ‘camera gear’ and within that gallery are subgalleries for each of my cameras and lenses…there is one gallery with all shots taken with the 10-24 lens, including all shot details. Otherwise, if you want to know any in particular, feel free to ask. And I’ll take your comment in the future to include it in the article!

    Also, thank you to the others for the additional kind comments.

  12. Simone says:

    I’ve got a wide angle lens lined up as a pressie, and I cannot wait to start shooting with it. This article has really gotten me excited now! Thank you so much!

  13. Jack says:

    Great tips Justin.
    I may get a tokina 11-16 f2.8 or sigma 8-16 f4.5-5.6

    caddie from dpreview forum

  14. Fantastic post and pictures. Thanks for the useful, easy-to-comprehend tips!

  15. Han Cheng says:

    I have a sigma 10-20 uwa lens. Thanks for the excellent tips on wide angle photography on your site!

  16. M. D. Vaden says:

    Really like the shot with the ship. I might like to focus on one point at a time, and that’s one aspect that would easy to begin with.

    MDV / Oregon

  17. Yan Boon Cheong says:

    Thank you very much for the tips. I shall practise them with my Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 lens.

  18. Jeffrey Cervania says:

    Hi,

    Nice tutorial.. I got a lot of learnings pick from your nice and simple tutorial.

    Reards,
    Jeff

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  20. Rex Wood says:

    Thank you for a very well written article.
    It is now in my bookmarks and I find myself referring to it on a regular basis

  21. Ray Habens says:

    Thanks for some solid tips. I’ve just got the Sigma 8-16mm and having fun figuring out how to get the best out of it.

  22. Just Another says:

    Great post. Very valuable information.

  23. Richard says:

    Hello !! Your snaps and the explainations were great. A great learing for me on what is a Ultra Wide Angle lens. I think i should go for one. Thanks, Richard

  24. Eric says:

    These are great tips, need to explore further and get better.

  25. Johnny says:

    Hi Justin,
    These were fantastic tips from you. I have ordered a Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens, so now I can’t wait to get it and use it. Thank you so much for these tips.

  26. Pierre says:

    Hi Justin,
    thank you for sharing your UWA passion with us. I would like to ad a point on difference in camera body. The full frame body and non-full frame camera body. The full frame camera give a ratio 1:1, meaning when you install a UWA lens, for example 12-24 mm that is what you get a 12mm to 24mm scenery. When you have a non-full frame body camera the ratio most of the time is 1:1.5, therefore the lens is multiplied by a ratio factor of x1.5. It means when you install a 8mm-16mm lens on a non-full frame camera in fact you have the same as a 12mm-24mm using a full frame: 8mm X1.5 factor =12mm and 16 X1.5 factor = 24mm, therefore a 8mm-16mm on a non-full frame is like using a 12mm-24mm on a full frame camera. That is a very important point to consider when bying lenses.

    • Pierre says:

      Forgot to mention: the 8mm-16mm Sigma lense is one of the best to use on a non-full frame body and it gives me excellent result.

  27. Andrea says:

    Simple and useful. Thank so much.

  28. Sandy Shore says:

    Recently got my Tokina 11-16mm with a Sony A77. The first trick i learned was the importance of holding the camera level – especially for interior shots and panoramas. Great suggestions and examples.

  29. Stevefizz says:

    Superb tips / tutorial. I have been getting really strange looking Church spires.I understand why now
    Thanks
    SteveFizz

  30. Lisa says:

    Thank you so much, I am in the business of wedding photography, and I just bought a Sigma 10-20mm, for my Nikon D80. Nice to study your site.
    Lisa
    Copehagen, Denmark

  31. Thank you everyone for leaving your comments. I passed them on to Justin today.

  32. Vikta says:

    Just starting out with my Tokina 17-35 on my 5Dmk3, seems a lot of consences with regards to your suggestions and some different easy to understand input, thanks for taking the time to help us.

  33. Genevieve says:

    Really high-quality post on 10 Tips on Using a Wide Angle Lens | Views Infinitum.

    Always keep writing..

  34. George says:

    You are still inspiring people 3 years later. Nice work. Just got a UWA today and your tips will save me a ton of experimentation. Question- what shutter speed are you finding works at night, hand held? Does one over the focal length work well (eg 10mm fine at 1/10)? Suppose i can do better with the anti-shake mechanism in the camera (Sony a65) so may be 1/4 hand held is doable at 10mm? Thoughts? Don’t feel like lugging a tripod to Hong Kong.

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