Taking Pictures With 24mm (or less) Lenses
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
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
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
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.
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.
Let us see what happens as I move the lens up and then down and look what
happens to the edges.
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.
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.
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
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