When Wide Isn’t Wide Enough

Author:  David Huffman

Sometimes when you’re shooting, you just wish you had a little more angle to your widest lens so you could “get it all in.”  Including a sweeping vista in a landscape can be an interesting visual effect.  Similarly, if you are shooting architecture, especially interiors, you may need to show a greater amount of the horizontal view of the room than your regular wide angle lens allows.

Today I’ll share with you some basic facts about wide angle lenses and also a technique to “stretch” your widest lens when you need to include more subject in the frame.  There are three methods discussed below.

The first way to add more subjects in the image is to reduce focal length, by zooming to the short end of the lens or changing lenses.

Angle of view is the basic consideration and is expressed in degrees, based on a circle of 360 degrees horizontal, most lenses capture a fraction of this.   I’ll use a full frame reference for focal length and angle of view in the following table; if you are using a smaller format camera, please see your manufacturer’s website for a useful reference.

LENS FOCAL LENGTH ANGLE OF VIEW DESCRIPTOR
50 MM 47 DEGREES NORMAL LENS
35 MM 63 DEGREES MODERATE WIDE
28 MM 75 DEGREES WIDE
24 MM 84 DEGREES EXTRA WIDE
20 MM 94 DEGREES ULTRA WIDE
15 MM 180 DEGREES FISH EYE

Pictures are included below to show the results of these lenses, all taken on tripod from exactly the same place.50mm single copy

35mm single copy

28mm single copy

24mm single copy

20mm single copy

The second way is to use a lens which is “wider” than other wide angle lenses, and I’m referring to a Fisheye lens.

The 15mm Fisheye lens is the most unique of the group.  This is a “full frame” fisheye that provides a full image from corner to corner.  It will “stretch” the subject in the corners and this is exaggerated if the lens is pointed above or below the horizon.  (I use the horizon indicator in my Nikon D810 to keep things straight.)  I find creative uses for this lens and if I am careful, the images don’t “scream fisheye”  distortion with the bending of lines near the edges of the frame.

15mm Fisheye single copy

The third way to add more horizontal subject is to us a panoramic technique which combines 2 or more images, then “stitches” them together digitally.  This can be accomplished in the firmware in some cameras, but I prefer to use a post production program to combine the images.  The software programs have become much better over time, requiring less manual intervention to get a good final result.

Using Adobe ® PhotoShop ® I have two panoramic images, below, to share.  The first image combines 2 images from the 20mm lens, for a total of approximately 180 degrees angle of view.  I shot these two images by carefully leveling the camera, then rotating left for one shot and right for the second.  I left about a 10% overlap in the images, so that the software can align the shots into a blended single image.  To use this feature, from the Enhance menu, select PhotoMerge ®, then select PhotoMerge Panoramic ®.  You’ll then navigate to the images to combine and the software will take over.  It will align the images, and when done, it will ask you if you want the software to “fill in” the corners, select YES and that’s it.  I also find it necessary to use the burn or dodge tool to blend the sky.  Skies that are plain, like they often are in Scottsdale, show the blending at times, so I blend them manually for final effect.

Panoramic 20mm x2 copy
The second panoramic image, below, is a blend of 3 images taken at 35mm focal length, for a total of about 180 degrees angle of view.  Comparing the panoramic from the two different lenses, you will see a perspective change in the size of the subjects.  It’s a personal preference, deciding which image you like best.

Panoramic 35mm x 3 copy
Panoramics take some practice, especially the blending.  Also keep in mind that exposures often change across the subjects, from full sun to deep shadow.  If indoors, the inclusion of window with bright daylight outside can be particularly challenging, but I’ll save that solution for another time.

Good shooting!

David Huffman is a Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, Photographer, Author and Instructor.  Visit him at www.HuffmanPhotoArt.com.

Images and text copyright 2016, DW Huffman.

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