Why You Should Sometimes Embrace the Distortion of Wide Angle Lenses

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Most photographers have a favorite lens to shoot with, a lens that is attached to the front of their camera more often than not. A 50mm is a common preference since it’s useful for a variety of photographic scenarios. Then there are those who are entrenched  at longer focal lengths, while others are obsessed with macro lenses. Everyone’s got their own thing.
But what about wide angle lenses? Are they strictly the domain of landscape photographers? Aren’t they less versatile since they tend to distort things? There’s no way you would ever use a wide angle lens for portraits, right?
Under most circumstances, no – a wide angle lens won’t be your first — or even second — choice for shooting portraits. But if you're feeling adventurous and want to do something a little different with your portraiture, then forget convention for a moment and embrace the distortion.
What You Need to Know About Wide Angle Lenses and Distortion
Wide angle lenses generally distort in three ways:

  1. Whatever is closer to the lens appears bigger, while things farther away appear smaller. Thus, the foreground will seem disproportionately large or expansive, while the background slinks away.
  2. You’ve probably seen this phenomenon when shooting a building with a wide angle lens. The edges of the building angle inward and vertical lines seem to converge at a distant point; the result is a building that leans backwards and has a diminishing perspective from the ground up.
  3. Wide angle lenses elongate things, thereby creating a sense of exaggerated depth. Legs seem longer, ceilings appear higher, and fields look as though they extend out into infinity.

There are ways to overcome these distortions through a combination of good technique and software, but have a look at what happens when you rebel against photography norms and shoot with the intent of not only retaining, but highlighting, those wide-angle-induced distortions.

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be free by Victor Bezrukov, on Flickr
the cow is you by timsnell, on Flickr
cutting edge by paul bica, on Flickr

So, as you can see, this style of shooting isn’t going to render a wholly accurate physical representation of your subject; whether it’s a living being or an inanimate object, you are going to get some interesting results. And therein lies the fun. Using a wide angle lens can help you break out of a rut or unleash a new flash of creativity. There’s no harm in experimenting. You never know how much you might enjoy the outcome.

About the author

Jason D. Little

Jason Little is a photographer (shooting macros, portraits, candids, and the occasional landscape), writer, and music lover. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

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