When To Use Wide Angle Lens

By | 17/10/2022

Badwater, Decease Valley, California.
I was only inches above the table salt. (tech details)

March 2015

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Ultrawide lenses are the most difficult lenses to use well. Ultrawides are not for “getting it all in.” Ultrawides are for getting yourself, and therefore the viewer, right smack into the middle of something. Ultrawides are for putting next to the cage of Dirty Harry’s revolver to put it in your face. If you can’t or won’t go shut, leave the ultrawide at home.

Ultrawides rub the viewer’southward nose in your subject. Properly used, ultrawides take hold of your viewer and yank him into the heart of your situation.

Ultrawide lenses are for getting close and bringing the viewer into the photo, not for plumbing equipment a subject into a photo.

Ultrawides are not for the faint of middle. For newsmen, ultrawides are for jamming into the face of a enraged boozer brandishing a broken canteen to exaggerate his crazed anger and rough weapon.

Most people utilise ultrawides likewise sheepishly, and get crummy results with tiny subjects dwarfed in the heart of an open up frame. When I use my 14mm I constantly have to strength myself to get closer and pay rapt attention to the sides of my viewfinder, which are too often bare or loaded with junk.

Ultrawides require you lot to get very close and personal to anything you lot are shooting. Fifty-fifty a fraction of an inch (or cm) will brand a huge difference in your composition, so you need to be very deliberate with your movement.

If you use them properly, you’ll be rewarded with dynamic images. I’ve discovered that regardless of how many lenses I use, and however many photos I make on a trip, the ones I ultimately love the most are always the ones fabricated with the widest lens I brought.

My 17-35mm zoom e’er seems to be shot at 17mm, my 16-35mm always at 16mm, and my xiv-24mm always seems to exist at the 14mm stop.

Your taste will vary, but this is how I run into the world.

How Wide is Broad

All this becomes more important every bit your ultrawide gets wider. For 24mm lenses, y’all tin ignore all of this. For 20mm lenses you ought to pay at least a little attending. For 17mm lenses you lot’ll demand most of this, and with 14mm lenses yous need to know all this, otherwise the only good photos you lot’ll probably get will be from dumb luck.

Everything here applies to all lenses, all the same normal and tele lenses don’t exhibit the crazy properties I’ll exist describing. The wider yous get, the crazier things become and the more than attentive you need to be.

28mm and 24mm lenses are notwithstanding pretty normal as wide lenses become. If 24mm (16mm on DX and 1.6x) is your widest lens, you won’t see or need much of what I’ll talk over here.

When you lot become to 20mm lenses (12mm on DX and 1.6x), things commencement to become a piffling weird. At 18mm and 17mm things are getting very weird, and by 15mm, 14mm and 13mm things are totally out of control. This is why some of u.s. love ultrawide lenses, however you lot have to empathize and exist able to make productive use of the weirdnesses of ultrawide lenses. Yous accept to shoot full-frame or FX to get the equivalent of 14mm; there are no lenses that broad for the little formats.

What is an Ultrawide

This commodity applies to all lenses, merely here are today’s definitions while I’one thousand at it.

FX and 35mm Motion-picture show



Ultra-Ultra Wide




Ultra Wide












There are few, if any, ultra-ultra wide lenses available for smaller format (i.6x,
one.3x) digital cameras. Ultra-Ultra broad lenses are for pros and basics, and the smaller format cameras are for normal people. I put these figures on the chart, just only time will tell if real ultra-ultra broad lenses ever get built for the smaller formats. Any links are to lenses which cover some of the nuttier focal lengths listed.





Ultra-Ultra Wide





Ultra Wide















When I refer to a 14mm lens in this commodity, I’m referring to that lens equally used on FX. You’d demand a nonexistent 9mm lens on a DX or 1.6x camera to become the aforementioned result.


Ultrawides are not fisheyes. Fisheyes distort and curve everything. Ultrawides go along straight lines straight.

Ultrawides don’t distort technically, only they distort artistically. This is why we use them.

Ultrawides exaggerate the human relationship between almost and far.

Ultrawides stretch out objects on the sides and the corners.

Ultrawides exaggerate any slight misalignment of your subject and camera.

They practise all this while keeping straight lines direct.

This is why we love them! We exploit these distortions to our advantage.

Getting information technology all in

Well-nigh beginners, myself included for 15 years, think broad-angle lenses are for “getting it all in.”

They think that the wider the lens (or stitched panorama), the more encompassing, impressive, huge and all-enveloping volition be the result.

Union 76, Baker CA

Union 76, Bakery, California.
January 2008. D3 FX, 14-24mm at 14mm. Boring.

I don’t have any actually bad examples of “getting information technology all in” shots, so this one, made in good low-cal, will accept to suffice.

Beginners know that wider lenses go more than in, and so the pictures must be ameliorate. They know that 14mm lenses are expensive considering pro organizations similar ASMP mandate photographic camera companies to charge more so that just pros can beget them and get the “good pictures.”

As a child, I first got a 35mm wide angle, than a 25mm Lentar wide-angle, then a 24mm Minolta Rokkor-X broad bending, a 17mm Tokina in 1984 so my ultimate, the 15mm Nikkor back in 1992.

Oddly, my pictures sucked.

Why is that?

All that most people go with ultrawide lenses are parking lots in the bottom half of their epitome, and cypher anywhere except for the center. Worse, ultra-wides see all the distracting junk on the side of your subject and weaken the shot.

The shot above is made in the eye of the Mojave Desert, so there isn’t anything on the sides. I got lucky.

The Easy Style

The best photos nigh users get with ultrawides are made inside large spaces, like Grand Central Station or stately homes. These highly-detailed spaces usually brand for fun photos regardless of where you lot put or point the photographic camera.


Servants’ Archway, Typical Dwelling house, Dubai.

Nikon D3, Nikon Ai Nikkor 13mm f/5.6s.

These photos are fine, but permit’s acquire how to get cracking photos everywhere.


Painters sympathize scale, but few photographers practice.

Scale means paying attention to the size at which an image will be printed as you’re creating it.

Images have entirely different meanings when printed at different sizes.

A photo of a mouse printed at 4×6″ (10x15cm) is normal. The same photograph printed at 20×30″ (50x75cm) is kind of weird. Why would someone make a print of a tiny mouse so big?

The reason photos of the G Coulee unremarkably lack the “yous are there” feeling is because they are only printed a few anxiety broad at nigh. A 40×60″ (1×1.5m) print is a big print, but even so doesn’t do the Grand Coulee justice. Prove the Grand Canyon as an IMAX movie as shot from a moving helicopter, and the audience feels it.

Panoramic stitching is making things worse today because anyone, even with most Canon point-and-shoots which come with gratuitous software, can make an image with nothing in it. In the old days, yous had to buy a $2,000 lens. Let’s face it: when you print that panorama at the aforementioned size as a normal prototype, doesn’t information technology seem to lack the “you are there” feeling y’all used to go before piece of cake panoramas?

Big things need to be printed bigger. If you want to “get it all in,” yous’d better be prepared to print huge. If you aren’t going to print huge, the but thing an exotic wide lens or panorama does is brand the things in your motion picture also darn pocket-size.

Even if y’all print xx feet (6m) alpine with ultrawide shots, you’re still a long way away from making practiced images. Scale is only one of many basic elements of creating an paradigm.

Composition: Affect in Normal-Sized Images

What makes a great image doesn’t modify with what lens you use.

What changes with an ultra-broad lens is how much more difficult it is to become your subject framed the mode yous want it.

Las Vegas

Someplace in Las Vegas.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm at 14mm, f/2.8 at one/xv, Machine ISO chose ISO 560.

Most people would be perfectly happy with this shot, merely wait at the sides. Cypher. This shot really only has anything going on in the central square portion of the frame. I wasn’t close enough. I walked into this place, said “wow,” and popped off a few without thinking.

I put the lesser of a column in the lower right, just I didn’t get it to the bottom of my frame. I wasted the bottom inch on the right, and the entire left side is about all devoid of anything meaningful.

Who are the people in the lower left? Only similar everything in life, if something isn’t adding to the composition, it’due south taking abroad.

The water thing was just 10 anxiety away, but information technology may as well accept been a mile. Print this shot twenty feet tall and it will be impressive, merely how can we make it stronger in the sizes nosotros really utilise?

Get Close!

The hardest function with ultra-wides is getting close enough.

You tin can never get too close!

You have to push button yourself to get and stay close enough.


Vegas, a few feet closer.

Nikon D3, xiv-24mm at 14mm, f/four at 1/15, Auto ISO chose ISO 450.

For this shot, I was leaning over the edge of the fountain to get close enough to the astronomical device to employ it equally a compositional element. Of course this is all paw-held: a tripod would have gotten in the style, non worked well in the fountain, not allowed me the precision I needed in positioning the camera, and would take gotten me thrown out. Tripods aren’t needed for digital.

Not that this is a great shot, since the elements on each side are each fighting to pull your eyes out of the frame in opposite directions, but these snaps testify how I have to approach every scene with an ultrawide.

Scout your edges and make sure your subject area fills the frame. I’one thousand always amazed at just how much wasted infinite happens at the edge of my images unless I work at paying attention to the sides of my finder with a 14mm lens.

If I get lazy, all I become is a smaller field of study in the middle with loads of space betwixt it and the frame edges. I current of air up cropping, which just eliminated the whole signal of using an ultrawide lens.


With longer lenses, the direction in which you signal the photographic camera is the most critical chemical element. With ultrawides, camera position is more disquisitional. Even a fraction of an inch makes a huge difference in composition.

I’1000 very serious: as I paw-agree my photographic camera inches away from something, my animate changes my composition. I accept to exist careful and shoot at but the right fourth dimension.

In the shot above, I’thou simply inches abroad from the naked lady.

Forget tripods, unless you’re using a macro positioning rail. Those runway merely arrange in two directions, not all 3, so you’ll demand a tripod with a geared-rise. Position has to exist within fractions of an inch. I can’t place a tripod that precisely. Ultrawides aren’t similar broad, normal and tele lenses where an inch or two makes no difference. Used upwards close, a one-half-inch can make or interruption a photo with an ultra-ultra broad.

Spotter your edges

I don’t look at the center of my image when composing. I take to keep looking at the edges to make sure things are close enough.

When fine-tuning balance, I look away and compose out of the corner of my eye. It sounds silly, but this is of import in abstracting your composition abroad from reality so you lot tin encounter the bones structure of the image and brand information technology strong.


Ultrawide shots are all about lines.

Personally, if there are lines to be had, I seem to like having 1 leading in from the lower left corner. I adopt to take the lines enter from the corner itself, not i of the sides.

This is just me. Even I’m surprised at how I consistently see the world this style.

Parking in Vegas

Somewhere in Las Vegas, Nevada, 29 Jan 2008.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm at 14mm, f/2.viii at 1/30, mitt-held, Auto ISO chose ISO 200.

Bodie, California

Bodie, California, nineteen October 2007.

Canon 5D, 16-35mm f/two.8 L Ii with Tiffen 812 warming filter at 16mm, f/11 @ 1 second (Av mode), hand-held (no stinking tripod!), no exposure compensation, ISO 100 (tech details). Exactly as shot in JPG.

Chemical Plant stacks

Chemic Plant, Amboy, California, 27 Jan 2007.

Canon 5D, 14mm f/2.8L, f/xi @ 1/25, ISO 50, mitt-held. (tech details.)

Color, Eastern Sierra, California.

Eastern Sierra, California, nineteen Oct 2007.

Canon 5D, 16-35mm f/2.8 L 2 with Tiffen 812 warming filter at 23mm, f/xvi @ i/100 (Av mode), no exposure bounty, ISO 100, hand-held (tech details). Exactly as shot in JPG.

Inclusion and Exclusion

Painting is an art of inclusion, meaning that something only gets into the painting if the painter paints it that style. You can ever tell a sloppy painter who’s done watercolors from a photo because of all the needless junk. If you lot see phone poles, crooked horizons and cars stopped in the middle of the street, information technology’s obvious a painting was made from a snapshot.

Photography is an art of exclusion, meaning that everything gets into your photo unless y’all go out of your way to exclude it. You must always watch for distractions. This takes experience, since by human nature we don’t run across these distractions until nosotros get our pictures back.

Nearly people signal a camera directly at a subject and shoot. It takes training to look all over to ensure an image only includes what contributes to making information technology stronger.

Ultrawides get everything in, whether nosotros want them to or not. This is another reason they are so difficult to utilise well. Unlike more reasonable lenses, ultrawides accept such huge depths-of-field that everything is in focus, even the unwanted junk up and down, left and correct.

When shooting ultrawide, watch your corners to fill up the frame with what you lot want, and be certain that at that place isn’t any distracting junk.

Virtually-Far Relationships

Long lenses shrink perspective: they seem to squeeze everything into looking like information technology’s in the same plane.

Ultrawides do the opposite: they aggrandize the apparent depth of an image. Shots fabricated with ultrawides push back the background, and since you have to get close, pull near objects even closer.

Ultrawide lenses exaggerate the difference betwixt nigh and far. This is one of the main reasons nosotros love them!

The shot below is fabricated with a 37mm wide lens. Scroll your mouse over to run into the same shot made with a 14mm ultra-ultra wide lens from a closer distance. See how everything becomes more than exaggerated? This is the reason we utilise ultrawide lenses; it’south not about getting it all in.

Old Truck

Old Truck, Amboy, California.

(roll mouse over to compare at 14mm)

Canon 5D, 14mm f/2.8L, f/13 @ 1/40, ISO 50, mitt-held (tech details).

See how the windshield appears twice every bit far abroad in the 14mm shot, but that the tip of the hood is now twice as close? I quadrupled the apparent depth past going from 37mm to 14mm
getting so close that I was almost under the hood.

Encounter how the door at the upper left and hood at the upper correct merely fit the frame in the 14mm shot? It took me quite a bit of gymnastics to get the camera in the correct position, and it’due south critical to the epitome. Run across how the lit portion of the front but makes it to the lesser of the frame and cuts off before the frame edge? This is also a premeditated function of my composition. There’due south no way to practice this in Photoshop or hack information technology in raw; you have to practice this equally y’all shoot. You do this by looking through the finder and carefully moving the camera.

When making the 14mm shot I had to try a bunch of times because I kept moving slightly equally I slipped into the mud.

Expanding Infinite

Exaggerating depth means that exteriors and interiors seem more spacious. A normal lens will just evidence a department of one wall of a room, while an ultrawide tin show two, and often three, walls at once.

The ultra-wide shot pushes the back wall back and makes a room await many times deeper than it is.

An ultrawide volition brand a minor back thou seem like a park.

This upshot is then powerful that you accept to be conscientious. When I posted an online ad to hire out my quondam condo, I had people calling from all over the USA thinking it was such a deal because information technology looked cavernous. I had to explain this effect to them, but they didn’t believe me and I people were calling from as far abroad as Pittsburgh trying to get out deposits, sight unseen.

If y’all shoot real estate listings for a living, an ultrawide lens pays for itself fast.

Sucked-out Corners

The corners of ultra-wide shots look as if someone printed the prototype on a rubber sheet and pulled-out the sides and corners. If photographing people, beware that they’ll look fat on the sides if standing (like the instance of me below), or skinny if they’re lying down, since the sucking stretches things towards the edges and especially the corners.


Ultrawides exaggerate any misalignment between picture aeroplane and discipline plane. Use this to your advantage.

Tiled Bathroom

Potty Room.

Nikon D3, Nikon Ai Nikkor 13mm f/5.6s.

This snap looks pretty crazy, but the camera was pointed down only slightly. Even this slight tilt has forced all the lines to converge in crazy ways. If the camera is level, the results are deadening:


Potty Room ceiling.

Nikon D3 held level, Nikon Ai Nikkor 13mm f/5.6s.

Employ this to your advantage: tilt upwards to expect at buildings, and control the angles past how and where you tilt the lens. You tin can’t do this with teles, so pay attending with ultrawides.

Polarizing Filters

Don’t do it!

The sky changes its polarization as you look from left to right. The heaven has its largest amount of polarization, and thus polarizing filters have their greatest effect, at 90 degree angles from the sun.

Used on normal and tele lenses, POL filters have more or less event depending on where yous indicate them.

Used on lenses that can see a broad expanses of heaven, a POL will render the more than polarized areas much darker than the other areas. This causes nasty dark bands in the sky, and is why I never utilise a polarizer with an ultrawide lens.

Synthetic Methods

There are many ways to simulated an ultrawide lens electronically. You tin can shoot stitched panoramas or stretch-out fisheye shots.

These requite the aforementioned results technically, merely there is a huge catch: you tin can’t see what you’re doing as you compose.

As you lot’ve learned, position, relationships, framing and limerick are disquisitional to making or breaking an ultrawide shot. You lot need instant feedback equally you’re positioning your photographic camera in order to create a powerful prototype.

If y’all use a fisheye, yous don’t know what’due south going to be included after the paradigm is cropped past whatever software is doing the rectification.

If you’re hard-core, you could mask off a finder screen for shooting with a fisheye you intend to catechumen to rectilinear later, but you however can’t see the crucial fundamentals of balance, line, and size relationships, since the fisheye lens alters these. I’ll acknowledge that my Death Valley shot at the top of the page was shot with a fisheye, simply I composed it knowing my final intent was doing a rectilinear conversion, and there were no complex relationship or compositional issues involved. I too got lucky.

Give up trying to predict what a final result will await like with stitching.

Fifty-fifty afterwards getting great single results similar at Death Valley with a $600 fisheye on a Canon 5D and a few hundred dollars in software, I still prefer to use real ultrawide lenses then I tin can see what I’m doing.

Recommended Lenses

Fisheye lenses corrected with software

I dislike this style because it’s too hard to estimate composition, but it is the least expensive. The best setup is the Canon 5D and 15mm fisheye, which is far sharper than the Nikon D3 and Nikon 16mm fisheye. You’re going to need all the sharpness you can get in the corners when you stretch it out.

For Nikon DX

On Nikon, become the Tokina 11-16mm Ii. It works great and costs less so the genuine Nikon lenses.

Personally, I employ the Nikon 10-24mm for its broad zoom range. The older Nikon 12-24mm lens doesn’t go every bit wide, but it is congenital better.


Catechism APS-C


Canon, get the 10-18mm EF-southward. Not only is information technology the least expensive ultrawide, information technology’s besides the sharpest!

For Nikon FX

Go the Nikon 16-35mm, which is Nikon’south sharpest ultrawide ever.


Nikon 14-24mm is 95% equally sharp and goeas wider, but is a huge special purpose lens

The Nikon 14mm f/2.8 is likewise swell, merely non as sharp.

See also Nikon Ultra-Ultrawides compared and Nikon Ultrawide Zooms Compared.

For Canon Total-Frame

Catechism’s newest 16-35mm f/four IS L is by far the sharpest full-frame ultrawide ever made by Canon,

I’ve too used the original 14mm L, some of whose results I’ve shown above. The newer 14mm Fifty II is sharper in the corners if yous can’t shoot at smaller apertures every bit I practice. Neither can utilise front filters.

See Canon Ultrawides Compared and Catechism Ultrawide Sharpness Comparison.

For Film

Of course you tin use 35mm cameras with the above full-frame lenses, just real film shooters use larger formats.

My favorite hand-held camera is the Mamiya 7 with the spectacular 43mm lens, although the goofy viewfinder setup requires me to move the camera into the same position equally the finder before exposure for precise composition The all-time results of all of these technically are a 4×5″ camera, on which I use a Schneider 75mm f/5.six Super-Angulon lens from the 1960s.

Another photographic camera is the Horseman SW612 with Schneider 47mm 40.

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