If you're a photographer and you’d like to know more about lenses, then you’ll love our free course, What Every Photographer Should Know About Lenses. In this lesson you’ll learn all about wide-angle lenses and get some photo tips on when best to use them.
How to Use and Choose Wide-Angle Lenses for Photography
What Is a Wide-Angle Lens and What Are Its Uses?
If you need to fit a lot of the world in your shot, you need a wide-angle lens in your bag. In photography, a wide-angle lens refers to a lens whose focal length is substantially smaller than the focal length of a ‘regular’ lens. This type of lens allows for more of the scene to be included in the image, which is very useful for architectural, interior, and landscape photography, where the photographer may not be able to move further away to compose the image properly.
Another use is when you want to emphasise the difference in size or distance between objects in the foreground and background. Nearby objects appear very large, and objects at even a moderate distance appear to be very small and far away. This exaggeration of relative size can be used to make the foreground objects more prominent and striking while capturing expansive backgrounds.
Depending on your camera's sensor size, you have some options:
- Full Frame: somewhere in the neighbourhood of a 12mm to 24mm lens
- APS-C: 10mm to 20mm
- Micro four-thirds: 7mm to 14mm
For APS-C and Micro four-thirds cameras, the widest field of view that you can find, not including a fisheye lens, is about 114 degrees. For a full-frame camera, you can get as wide as 122 degrees. It's worth mentioning that all of the wide-angle focal lengths mentioned are rectilinear lenses. A rectilinear lens creates an image where straight features, such as walls, buildings, or lines, appear to be straight, as opposed to being curved. At particularly wide angles, however, the rectilinear perspective will cause objects to appear increasingly stretched and enlarged, especially as they near the edge of the frame.
This is different from a fisheye lens, which dramatically distorts everything and has a freakish field of view of 180 degrees or more.
Wide-Angle Lenses in Action
In this example, I used the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 ultra-wide zoom lens on a crop sensor Canon 7D. This isn’t the widest you can get, but it is pretty wide, so I could take advantage of that cool exaggerated perspective.
In the setup were two speed lights in front, and the sun as a sort of backlight. I exposed the sky down to a nice deep blue, with the settings f/11, 1/1250 shutter speed, and an ISO of 100.
This is another example with the 11-16mm lens. This was the result of about 100 images just to get a handful of good shots, but you can see how the exaggerated perspective, especially when really close to the lens, just looks cool.
This playground example shows that you can get right under your subject and have them still look pretty far away. It’s a huge field of view, and it's great for getting big skies in your shot and getting some distance between objects.
Wide-angles are good for things like light painting as well. If you used a lens with a higher focal length, it wouldn't work quite as well because there’d be a smaller area to work with, but a wide lens makes it easy.
For interiors, a wide-angle zoom is almost essential because you often don't have the space to move around, and to capture stuff with a nice wide perspective, you need a very low focal length lens.
The church shot above was taken with a tripod, and you can see it’s already quite wide, but then there was the additional benefit of being able to put several of the wide shots together in a panorama:
As mentioned, a lot of times when you're working inside you don't have a lot of space to work with and can’t quite position yourself, so many shots just aren’t possible with a higher focal length lens because they’re quite tight spaces inside, but a wide-angle lens lets you capture so much more.
Wide-angle zooms aren’t just for interiors, although that's one area where they shine. They’re also great for outside. This 11mm-16mm definitely has some distortion at 11mm, but once corrected it’s not that bad, and you don't really notice it. There’d be no other way to get shots like the one above, where you couldn’t get under the tree with a longer focal length and have it all be in the shot; it would look completely different.
A wide-angle lens is essential for your kit bag, giving you a unique field of view, capturing unusual angles, and helping you photograph in tight spaces.
More Photo Tips and Lens Tutorials
How to Use Medium Telephoto Lenses for Photography
Primes vs Zooms: Pros and Cons of Fixed Focal Length Lenses for Photography
Setting the Standard: What's a Standard Zoom Lens?
How to Choose the Best Lens to Use for Portrait Photography
About the Video Author
David Bode created the video course that includes this lesson. Dave is an expert on video and audio production, and he lives in the upstate NY area. He works as a camera operator, editor, inventor, motion graphics designer, recording engineer, and studio musician.
Marie Gardiner wrote the text version of this lesson, and it was edited and published by Jackson Couse. Jackson is a photographer and the editor of the Photo & Video section of Envato Tuts+.