Simple Composition Technique to Reduce Wide Angle Distortions

One of my recent client assignments was to photograph a heritage building that was constructed in 1879. The building has been lovingly restored and is now used as a longer stay guest house. Photographing the inside rooms of this property presented a couple of interesting challenges. These included quite poor lighting and the need to shoot using a wide angle lens. While photographing this property, it occurred to me that some readers may be interested in an article that shares a very simple composition technique to reduce wide angle distortions.

Many software programs used by photographers today do have perspective control adjustments which can change specific angles in a photograph to reduce the effects of wide angle lens distortions. While this type of software can be fairly quick and easy to use, the nature of some client assignments precludes its use when clients simply want the original files without any work being done on them in post by the photographer.

This article uses images from a different property to demonstrate how to reduce wide angle lens distortions when composing an image. Let’s have a look at a photograph with some obvious wide angle lens distortions.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/20, ISO-160

This photograph was captured with my camera held up in front of my face. With the camera at this height from the floor you can see how using a 6.7 mm (efov 18 mm) wide angle focal length has caused serious angle distortions clearly visible with the corners of the room, the right hand window and the picture on the left hand side of the image. These wide angle distortions are quite distracting and make the image look amateurish.

The first thing to remember when dealing with wide angle lens distortions is that you will need to change the physical position of your camera, either lowering it, or raising it, depending on the ceiling height of the room and the intent of your image composition.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-160

Here is the same room shot from the same distance from the back wall. I lowered my camera to waist height which has dramatically reduced the amount of wide angle lens distortion in the image. At this point I could have made the corners of the room square by simply adjusting the pitch of my lens, i.e. its up or down angle relative to the subject matter.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-160

Sometimes we can add drama to a room by shooting from a very low angle. This can also cause serious wide angle lens distortions. The same simple technique can be used to reduce these types of wide angle distortions as well – first adjust the physical position of your camera higher or lower, then tilt your lens towards the floor or towards the ceiling to square up the major lines in the scene and thus correct the wide angle distortions.

As you can see from the three images above, shooting a room ‘square on’ can pose some challenges to get your camera height and shooting angle adjusted properly. Let’s have a look at the same room photographed from a different position.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-800

In this case the room was photographed so that one of its corners would be close to centre frame and the other corner of the room was left out of the composition. As with the first photograph in this article, I held my camera up in front of my face. You can see that there are still a number of wide angle lens distortions in the image, but they are less severe and not as noticeable as they were in the first image.  Now let’s see what happens when I lowered my camera to waist height and tilted my lens to correct the wide angle distortions.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-800

All of the vertical lines including the window frame, the artwork on the left hand wall, the corner, the lamp, and the edge of the cabinet on the right hand side, are all square and aligned with each other. As a result the photograph has a natural appearance without any distracting and obvious wide angle distortions. Using this simple technique of raise/lower – tilt, has eliminated the need to do any work on this image in post in terms of perspective control.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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2 thoughts on “Simple Composition Technique to Reduce Wide Angle Distortions”

  1. Very clever, Tom – – I now see that I rely much too much on DxO-PhotoLab’s amazing perspective correction ability !

    Regards, John

    1. Hi John,
      I also use the perspective control adjustment in DxO PhotoLab on a regular basis as I’ve found it to be a powerful, simple tool. I typically use it more often with photographs of the exterior of buildings as the raise/lower – tilt technique often cannot completely correct wide angle lens distortions given the size of the subject.
      Tom

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