Anticipating wide angle distortion

Using wide angle lenses can be a mixed blessing for many of us. On one hand we love the broader view that wide angle primes and zoom lenses give us. But on the other the distortion that can be created by these types of lenses can be a problem. Anticipating wide angle distortion and deciding how we’re going to deal with it before we press the shutter can be helpful.

The first and most obvious choice dealing with wide angle distortion is simply to do nothing. Many photographers love the dramatic effects that can be created when using wide angle lenses, especially with architectural photography. They often compose images to accentuate these distortions.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160

Others of us would find the wide angle distortions in the above image quite disturbing, feeling that they detract from the photograph.

Some simple perspective control adjustments can be done in post to correct these types of images quite easily. In order to end up with the image in our minds it is important to anticipate wide angle distortions and compose our original image to allow for perspective adjustments in post.

If you examine the image above you’ll see that I allowed more room on the left and right hand side of the image than was actually needed. Now let’s see what happens when some simple perspective control adjustments are made to this same image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160

As you can see the left and right hand sides of the image are much more squared up with each other. Pay special attention to the garage door opening on the left and the right hand porch post on the right.

Using perspective control software to adjust horizontal images can usually be done quite simply. It is also much easier to judge how much room to leave on the left and right sides of horizontal images than it is with vertical images. As vertical images are straightened with perspective control software elements in the frame can increase in height dramatically. Let’s have a look at two quick examples.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-800

It first appears like a lot of room was left in the sky for the tree in front of the mansion to still fit the frame once perspective control adjustments are done. If you look at the angle of the tree on the extreme right hand side you can tell that the truck of the tree is going to disappear when the adjustment is made. Now, let’s have a look at the same image after perspective control adjustments were made.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-800

Even though we thought there was a lot of allowance in the sky the top of the tree in front of the mansion got clipped off.

Let’s look at another vertical example.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO-800

Hmm…quite a bizarre looking composition, and not terribly attractive to say the least. But, a lot of room was left at the top to (hopefully) accommodate the tall trees. The next image is a screen shot showing how the right and left perspective controls were applied to the image.

DSC_4543 perspective example

Let’s see if we allowed sufficient room at the top of the image so the trees are not cropped off.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/6.3, 1/1250, ISO-800

Almost, but not quite. As mentioned earlier, anticipating the amount of room needed for vertical images can be tricky. The next example works pretty well. First the original capture.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/6.3, 1/400, ISO-400
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

I really wanted to position the clouds at the same angle as the roof line to accentuate them. Additional room was allowed on the right and left hand sides of the image for perspective control adjustments. Let’s have a look at how they were applied.

DSC_4611 perspective control

And, now the resulting, corrected image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7mm, efov 18mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

We can also use perspective control adjustments to fine tune an image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13mm, efov 35mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13mm, efov 35mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160

As we can see the red brick building on the left side is pretty square, but the porch of the house is leaning backwards a bit, as is the feature tree on the right hand side of the image.

DSC_4604 perspective control

The above screen capture shows how we’re going to adjust the image slightly with perspective control.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13mm, efov 35mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13mm, efov 35mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160

You can see how that small adjustment aligns everything to achieve better overall balance and order.

Sometimes we can anticipate wide angle distortion and not have to deal with it in post by using another simple technique. First, let’s look at a scene shot with my Nikon 1 J5 held at eye level.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 23mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 23mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-800

Now a screen shot of our perspective control adjustment.

DSC_4555 perspective control

And now our perspective control adjusted image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 23mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 23mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-800

Now let’s look at that same subject scene.  I captured the next image standing in the exact same spot as the first image, using the exact same f/stop and focal length.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 23mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 23mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-800

You’ll notice that the scene is framed just a bit differently, and most of the distracting angles that were in the first capture have been corrected. How? By changing the position and angle of the camera relative to the subject.

To capture the second image I had the tilt screen on my Nikon 1 J5 set at 90-degrees pointing towards the ground. I then held the J5 as high over my head as I could. I then adjusted the angle of the camera to capture the scene as well as eliminate most of the distracting angles. I don’t think I was quite tall enough to totally eliminate the angles, but overall the second capture is more visually pleasing than the first one.

Using wide angle prime and zoom lenses can bring a lot of additional creativity to our photographic compositions. Anticipating wide angle distortions and handling them with perspective control adjustments, or by changing the position and angle of our camera to the subject can bring more realism to our images.

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3 thoughts on “Anticipating wide angle distortion”

  1. You`re probably using DxO perspective control but one thing puzzles me. In your words-Even though we thought there was a lot of allowance in the sky the top of the tree in front of the mansion got clipped off. I routinely correct perspective using PH crude Distortion correction. Just squeeze bottom corners so the verticals are parallel. Now you have tree and the sky but picture is way to narrow. Then Distortion again and squeeze the picture vertically to regain proportions and voila.
    p.s. the only DxO function I´d love to have is their ViewPoints true proportions wide angle correction.

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