Hobby - Photography
By: - at August 5, 2013

Taking Pictures With 24mm (or less) Lenses

camera photographyOn a camera with a full-frame sensor--that is a sensor that is the same size as a piece of 35-mm film--we typically think of wide angle to be a lens with a focal length between 24 mm and 50 mm. Curiously, 10 years ago I would have said 28 and 50 mm, but thanks to advances in engineering and manufacturing, high quality 24-mm lenses can now be made very affordable. Once you go shorter than 24 mm, you are into the realm of the ultra-wide, which is what we are going to explore in this article.

Differences In Ultra Wide Lenses
On a full-frame sensor, ultra-wide lenses typically range from 16-24 mm wide. If you are using a cropped sensor camera then the ultra-wide focal length range is going to be more like 10 to 15 mm wide. Now, 8 mm may sound like a very small range. After all telephoto lenses range across hundreds of millimeters, but there is a surprising amount of difference in field of view when you get to very short focal lengths.

As with wide-angle lenses of any focal length, as you shrink the length of your lens into the ultra-wide domain, you run the risk of distorting your image. Distortion is the geometric warping that can occur in your images, especially in the corners and on the edges. Now many lenses actually have special optical elements in it that aim to reduce spherical distortion. These lens are called Rectilinear Lenses. As much as possible, the engineers have worked to ensure that the lens produces straight lines.

Once you go shorter than 16 mm, it gets very difficult to control distortion. This is why the ultra-wide domain has a bottom limit. Mind you, it is not impossible to build a wider lens without distortion, but to reduce distortion requires the addition of more lens elements, and that makes the lens bigger and heavier and more expensive.

Rectilinear Ultra-Wide Lens
As you might expect, what you can do with the Rectilinear Lens is a lot like what you can do with a normal wide-angle lens only more so, much more so. Two things happen as focal length shrinks, your field of view increases and the sense of depth in the scene expands. Things in the distance will appear farther away and much smaller. This dramatically changes the entire sense of space in your scene and the relationships between objects that are closer and farther.

With a wide lens you can capture a fuller scene with large buildings
Eiffel Tower Wide Lens

Ultra-wide lenses are great for shooting people in situations where you want to see their environment or things that they are holding or interacting with. When shooting people, you need to be very careful about distortion. With any wide-angle lens, it is very easy to create very unflattering portraits. With an ultra-wide, you can really make people look weird. Ultra-wide lenses can be very effective for shooting interiors. If you are going for accuracy, you will need to be careful that you are not presenting an inaccurate sense of the space of the interior.

Capture A Greater Field Around You
But for small spaces, these lenses are a great way to capture a wide field of detail. I like ultra-wide lenses for street shooting because when you are out on the street just walking around, you usually have an awareness of a fair amount of space around you. An ultra-wide lens lets you capture that expansive field while simultaneously giving you a kind of a more abstract wider view than what you would actually see. Like all of the lenses, ultra-wide lenses are useful any time you want a very different take on something that you are used to regularly shooting. I often find they work very well in situations that you would not always think of as being a wide-angle situation.

You can get interesting distortion with wide angle lens
London Stock Exchange wide angle fisheye lens photography

Because they can capture such a wide field of view, an ultra-wide lets you create really dramatic angles and interesting points of view that are very different from what you can capture with a longer lens. Move up, move down, and by all means get close. That is the easiest way to ensure that your subject is obviously in frame when you are shooting with an ultra-wide.

Shooting Landscapes
Now, many people are surprised to find that ultra-wide focal lengths are usually not very effective for shooting landscapes because they place the horizon so far away and they make it so small, an ultra-wide can easily shrink that big grand vista you are looking at something really small and boring.

If you are going to shoot with an ultra-wide, you have to be ready to move your feet more. Using an ultra wide means getting very close to your subject, and as you work to minimize distortion and to find the best angle, you will probably find that you have to move more than you do with a normal lens.

To get the best results with an ultra-wide, you will need to consider a few simple shooting practices. Take a look at this. This is video capture from a Canon 5D with a 16 to 35-mm lens. I have pulled the lens out to 16 mm.

16 mm Shot

Let us see what happens as I move the lens up and then down and look what happens to the edges.

Lens Up

and down:
Wide lens shot

When you are shooting with an ultra-wide, you have to pay very careful attention to the tilt of the camera. Even a slight tilt will cause distortion of the lines in your image, especially on the edge of the frame. You should also pay attention to the size of objects in your frame. Remember, closer things will appear to be much bigger than things that are even just a little bit far away.

Shooting People
When you are shooting people, wide angle lenses can create some very strange proportions which are not always flattering. You have to be careful with polarizerís when you are using an ultra-wide angle lens also.

The effect of a polarizer depends on the angle of the light that is hitting your subject, but with the huge fields of view, ultra-wide lenses do not necessarily have the same angle of light striking all elements across their frame. So you will sometime see a change in polarization across the frame if you slap a polarizer on your ultra-wide lens. Similarly, exposure can be uneven across your image because your camera will meter for light sources that are included in the extreme edges of your frame.

woman taking a photo photographyYou will sometimes find that your foreground is dark even though there are light sources on the edges of the frame. Speaking of light sources on the edges of the frame, be sure to keep an eye out for lens flare when shooting with an ultra-wide and remember that lens flare is not always those obvious circular artifacts on the image, sometimes it is simply a loss of contrast. If that happens, you are going to want to try to shield your lens from the light source to get that reflection off the front of the lens.

That should put some contrast back in your image and remove any of those circular patterns. If you are shooting with the sun behind you, then you will need to be careful of your own shadow. If the sun is low, you may not be able to get as close as you like to a subject without seeing your own shadow in the frame.

Final Words
Finally, when you are composing with an ultra-wide, be absolutely certain that you have a clearly defined subject. This can be hard with these lenses because there can be so many things in the frame that can distract, and because your subject might be rendered very small. So really take some extra effort to ensure that the subject of your shot is obvious.





Taking Pictures With 24mm (or less) Lenses
How To Get A Wider View With Fisheye Lenses
How To Take Pictures In Infrared
8 Photographic Compositions an Amateur Can Try
Beginnersí Guide to Taking Photos


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