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Design & Style

How to Use a Wide Angle Lens in Your Photography

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

A lens is a tool used to bring light to a fixed focal point—photographers use various lenses to capture different moments and subjects. The type of shot you’re trying to capture will determine the type of lens you should use, and the overall quality of your image.

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What Is a Wide Angle Lens?

A wide-angle lens is a type of lens that has a shorter focal length than a normal lens. Photographers use the short focal length of wide lenses to expand the horizontal scope of a camera shot. With a wide-angle lens, subjects closer to the camera will appear larger than subjects further away—resulting in a slight barrel distortion of the image. A wide-angle lens keeps almost everything in focus, unless your subject is very close to the lens.

Types of Wide-Angle Lenses: Prime Lens vs. Zoom Lens

Whether you’re shooting with a mirrorless or DSLR camera, there are two main types of wide-angle lenses: prime and zoom.

  • Prime lenses are a type of wide lens with a fixed focal length. Photographers who use a prime lens will need to bring along multiple lens changes for their camera because of the lack of zoom range. However, the prime lens has a wider aperture, letting more light into the camera sensor, and allowing the photographer to use faster shutter speeds.
  • A wide-angle zoom lens allows more flexibility with controlling the angle of view, allowing the photographer to adjust the image magnification and perspective. Wide zoom lenses are especially useful for photographers trying to capture full-frame photos while shooting in locations short on movement space.
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What Are the Characteristics of Wide Angle Lenses?

With a wide-angle lens, subjects closer to the camera will appear larger than subjects further away—resulting in a slight barrel distortion of the image. A wide-angle lens keeps almost everything in focus unless your subject is very close to the lens. If you use a wide-angle lens with a small aperture, you can create a greater depth of field, which many photographers use to their advantage to help enhance the size and scope of a particular subject.

When to Use a Wide Angle Lens

A wide-angle lens is an essential tool for a few different types of photography.

  • Landscape photography. To capture a wide field of view like a mountain range, you’ll likely want to fit as much horizontal scope into your images as possible—a wide-angle lens is a perfect tool for the job. A wide-angle lens also allows landscape photographers to get closer to a large subject while keeping it in frame, allowing photographers to emphasize an interesting detail rather than shooting a flat image.
  • Architecture photography. A wide-angle lens is a great tool for architectural photography. A wide-angle lens allows you to capture an entire building without being very far away, giving you the option to choose an interesting focal point to frame your shot rather than relying solely on the building to carry the shot. The wide-angle lens creates a perspective distortion that really shines when photographing objects with lots of straight lines (like a building).
  • City photography. Wide-angle lenses are most often used to shoot cityscapes because the width of the lens can easily capture a large crowd or a busy city street.

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3 Types of Wide Angle Lenses

There are a few different kinds of wide-angle lenses available to photographers, such as:

  1. Fisheye lens: A fisheye lens is another name for an ultra-wide-angle lens. These lenses fit as much of your frame into view as possible without regard to lines, producing somewhat distorted, circular images (also known as the “circular fisheye effect”).
  2. Rectilinear wide-angle lens: Rectilinear lenses are the standard wide-angle lens choice for many photographers. Although they are not entirely free from distortion, they keep lines straighter than fisheye lenses.
  3. Tilt-shift wide-angle lens: These lenses are a more expensive option usually reserved for professional photographers. Tilt-shift lenses allow you to tilt the plane of focus and adjust the perspective, allowing you to cut down on image distortion without sacrificing image quality.

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