Use a Wide Angle

Wide is Really Normal

The home page for this site brings up a new photograph every day and attempts to point out features and techniques that were called upon in making the image. The most common feature in our examples is use of a wide angle, either by use of a wide angle lens or a stitched panorama.  That common feature partly derives from my interest in subject matter. Landscapes call for wide angle much more than portraits or wildlife photography. I would expect a site devoted to wildlife photography to feature telephoto shots predominantly. Wild animals big enough to be photographed without a telephoto tend to be ones that you don't want to get close to anyway.  The reason for not using a wide angle is to eliminate material that is uninteresting relative to the subject.  I'm claiming you need a reason not to use a wide angle.

Humans naturally see a very wide angle. We move our eyes to examine individual features of  a scene, but the panoramic view is always there, ready to be explored.

The important uses of "normal" and telephoto lenses notwithstanding, there are many pictures best captured with a wide angle. Travel photos are mainly portraits and scenics, and many of the photos of people are taken in the context of scenery.  Narrow streets and small rooms require wide angles.

Here is a scene (Rabbit Island, from the east shore of Oahu, Hawaii) with a wide angle view and, for comparison, the image cropped to approximate what would have been obtained with a "normal" lens.

Rabbit Island wide angle     Rabbit Island narrow view

To be fair, I made the images about the same area. A larger image would naturally be preferred over a smaller one. I tried to crop the image for the best results. I think the wide angle view is much better than the narrow angle. Stare at each image and ask: Does this image capture what it was like to have been there?  

Perspective Correction

Wide angle photography has some challenges.  If the camera is tipped up or down. vertical lines that are parallel in the original scene will appear to converge in the image. This is not a defect of the lens, if you viewed the photo from a position corresponding to that of the camera relative to the scene, it would appear correct. We would like to have the photo look appropriate, or more appropriate, from a normal viewing position.  

Here is an example of an original wide angle photo (of Jerome, Arizona, featured on our Slide Show page) and the image after it has been adjusted using Photoshop Filter > Correct Camera Distortion > Vertical Perspective:

Jerome AZ, uncorrected wide angle   Jerome AZ, adjusted

We could have taken out all the distortion, so that the verticals were parallel, but we chose to leave some perspective in the image. There are some subtleties in using the Perspective filter.  These are explained in our video on Perspective Correction.  


Another problem is that wide angle photography calls for a wide angle lens. If you have an interchangeable lens camera, you can switch to a wide angle lens. The most useful focal length is the equivalent of about 24 mm of a 35 mm camera; that is about 16 mm on a digital SLR. I use a 10 mm to 20 mm zoom on a digital SLR, but most often it ends up set from the middle to the top (15 mm to 20 mm) of its zoom range.

The camera is bulky, far from pocketable.  The zoom on a pocket camera usually starts at the 35 mm format equivalent of about 35 mm, far from the desired 24 mm equivalent. There are a few pocket cameras that have a zoom range starting at the equivalent of 28 mm, and having that is a significant advantage. The add-on wide angle adapters for pocket cameras are better than nothing, but the optical quality is poor and they make the camera non-pocketable.

An alternative to a wide angle lens is to stitch two photos together. For the photo of Jerome, the camera would be held vertically, and photos taken of the left and right pieces of the scene. There must be some overlap. The phone pole (which is actually not vertical, just to confound the perspective correction process) would be in both images. Later, the two photos would be stitched, spiced together, using Photoshop.  Our page on stitching gives the details. The major limitation is that any change between the photos in the region of overlap will not stitch well.  In the Jerome picture, we would have to avoid the flapping flag.  An advantage is that angles wider than than of a wide angle lens can be achieved. I use stitching with a 10 mm zoom setting sometimes, although stitching is easier with less perspective distortion. Here is an example of two wide angle shots stitched to make an ultra wide angle: