Using Wide Angle Lens Distortion Creatively


Over the weekend I realized that I’m a little obsessed with longer focal lengths.

It happens easily enough – for me it all started with the purchase of a new lens.

Up until two months ago the lens that you’d usually find on my camera was my Canon EF 17-40mm lens (a wonderful piece of glass that produces stunningly sharp results). However a little while ago I scrimped and saved enough to lash out and add another lens to my kit – a Canon EF 24-105mm lens (another great lens which I’m most satisfied with).

The only problem is that since buying this latest lens I’ve rarely taken it off my camera. In addition to that – as I looked back on my most recent shots I realize that I use it almost completely at the 105mm end of the zoom.

I hadn’t realized I was doing it until this week when I saw some shots my wife had taken with the same lens (mainly at the 24mm end of the spectrum) which were really great but quite different in nature.

I decided that perhaps it was time to mix things up a little and attached my 17-40mm lens again and spend a day where I would only take shots at 17mm and resist the temptation to zoom all day.

The result was a fun day with my camera rediscovering the joy of using wide focal lenths – particularly playing with the distortion and unique perspective that they bring to photos.

Using Distortion Creatively

While many people think of landscapes as the ideal type of photography for short focal lengths another wonderful use of them is to use them whilst up nice and close to your subject in portrait photography. Do this and you’ll discover a completely different perspective in your shots as short focal lengths have a unique way of slightly distorting what you’re photographing – sometimes creating quite a dynamic effect.

For example when you photograph a person looking slightly down on them you’ll find that the lens will often enlarge the forehead and eyes of the person. Conversely – shoot looking up at someone with a short focal length and you’ll find it elongates whatever is at the bottom of the image (their legs if it’s a full body shot or their chin and mouth area if it’s a face shot). Look at the pictures above and to the left for examples of this in action.

While the photos you get in shooting this way might not give you an accurate likeness of your subject it can certainly give you shots with a distinct and unique look and feel (and some of them will give you reason to chuckle for quite some time).

The results can be quite spectacular and at times even comical.

As another example of how even just a few mm in focal length can have an impact check out these two shots that I took recently using a friend’s Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens. The first shot is taken at 20mm focal length and the second at 10mm. You can see the impact of the distortion pretty clearly in the 10mm shot.


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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

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  • Wide Angle Lens Distortion » Elizabeth Halford Photography February 15, 2010 07:02 am

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