Lenses come in all shapes and sizes, and every one will see your scene – and therefore render your images – very differently. In today’s photography tutorial, we’re going to be focusing on the sprawling world of wide angle photography.

What is Wide Angle?

The focal length of a lens is the distance between it’s focusing element and the camera’s sensor, and it determines how wide or narrow the angle of view is. A wide angle lens is defined by having a field of vision that is larger than our own eyes. In terms of the measurement of the lens’ focal length, that translates to anything less than 50mm, in standard terms.

Most cameras come with a moderate wide angle lens, including your point-and-shoot and smartphone cameras, as well as stock DSLR bundles.

What Wide Angles Are For

Photographers typically use wide angle lenses to capture large, panoramic shots, making them very popular for landscapes and street scenes. They are also used in tight indoor spaces where you otherwise couldn’t back up enough to get the whole picture in the frame.

Issues and Limitations

Wide angle lenses have the effect of exaggerating space – they appear to expand the distance within your scene, enlarging nearby objects and shrinking things that are further away. Because of this, ultra wide angles are not commonly used for portraits and other close-up photography as they can warp the appearance of a person’s face, giving them an oversized nose relative to the rest of their face and body.

There are varying degrees of wide angles, with some lenses seeing more than others (many can also zoom between a range of focal lengths). In order for a lens to get a wide-angle view, the front element has to bubble outward so it can capture the furthest reaches of the scene. With extremely wide lenses, this bowing of the glass can distort the edges of the frame and cause them to curve around the center; we know these as fisheye lenses.

Overcoming with Creativity

Of course, just because wide angle lenses are typically used in certain situations more than others, doesn’t make any uses right or wrong. Taking a picture of your friend with a fisheye lens might not make them look like a supermodel, but it can create some fun, artistic shots nonetheless. Fisheyes can create unique and interesting images that emphasize the center of the picture while still including the surroundings. Personally, I like to use these often for sports and concert photography, where the distorted look adds to the personality of my subject.

As I said before, the altered perspective of a wide angle lens is most noticeable on objects very close or very far from the camera. However, there is a decent range in the middle where the effects are minimal, if they exist at all. Wide-angles can be used for environmental portraits where one subject does not take up the whole frame, but is standing back within a larger setting.

Remember that rules are made to be broken, especially when it comes to creating art. It’s important to learn how “most people” do things, but never let that stop you from doing it your own way instead.