A Paradox of Ultra Wide Angle Lenses: How to Use Them to Make Extraordinary Pictures

If you are a lucky owner of an ultra wide angle lens, you know that the world is so different when you look at it through a lens like this. Further still, it’s a lot different from what you imagined it to look like.

Many photographers who are planning to buy an ultra wide angle glass think that their photos—irrespective of the subject and composition—will come out looking really awesome just because of the fact that they are using an ultra wide angle. Click click and that’s it, right?

This is exactly where the paradox of ultra wide angle lenses pops up, making photographers realize that it’s not as easy as they thought. Let’s talk about it and find out all do’s and dont’s when it comes to how to use ultra wide angle lenses.

We would like to begin with explaining what the term ultra wide angle really means. How wide is it? For DSLRs with a cropped sensor, anything between 10mm to 12 mm is considered ultra wide angle. For full-frame cameras, anything in between 11 to 16mm is ultra wide angle. So why are these lenses so difficult to use?

Firstly, they are really wide and it makes it difficult to channel the viewer’s attention to the most important thing in the frame, making the shot too crammed with unnecessary stuff. Secondly, these lenses have a lot of distortion, which is sometimes difficult to fix even in Lightroom or Photoshop. Thirdly, these lenses are less sharp than their common wide angle counterparts—not to mention fixed lenses—and sometimes your images will come out soft even if you stop down the aperture.

Feels like it’s not worth it? Hang on, ultra wide angle lenses have their advantages too and we would like to talk about do’s and dont’s in the world of ultra wide angle photography.


Architectural photography

Ultra wide angle lenses and architectural photography are a match made in heaven. The biggest advantage is that you can fit virtually any building—including the tallest skyscrapers—into the frame without the need to make a panorama. Just make sure to fix the distortion during post-processing.

Interior photography

Interior photography, just like photos of architecture, asks for a photographer who uses an ultra wide angle lens. Just think about it: who doesn’t want the interior to look more spacious than it really is? That’s exactly what ultra wide angle lenses do. They make things look bigger.

Conveying sense of space

This is probably the best use of ultra wide angle lenses. Try to get really really close to something—and when we say close we mean one or two feet—and shoot it. This will make the subject look bigger than it is whilst adding the sense of space to the rest of the photo without deforming it.

Full body portraits

Since ultra wide angle lenses make the main subject bigger—something or someone that you are standing really close to—it creates a very interesting effect in full-body portraits.

Landscapes that don’t require high detalization

Contrary to a widespread belief, ultra wide angle lenses aren’t good for general landscape photography. The thing is that often the angle of view is too wide to capture everything that’s going on in the frame with high detalization without losing the nature’s beauty.

Be sure to look for landscape shots where the sense of space and scape is more important than the details and shoot them. Creating landscapes that have a foreground, middleground, and background is a good idea, too.

Geometric shapes and lines

Lines and geometric shapes make for beautiful photos irrespective of the focal length you use. However, shooting with an ultra wide angle glass will make these photos look even better because you can fit more into the frame. The only thing that you should remember about is to completely get rid of distortion during post-processing.


Street photography

In most cases, using an ultra wide angle lens for street photography would not be a great idea. Take this photo as an example. The photo has awesome light and it is pretty sharp, but still it lacks something important to become an excellent photo. The wide angle of view makes it seem too distorted.

Landscapes with a lot of details

As we have already said above, the chances that you will make an outstanding landscape photo shooting with an ultra wide angle lens are close to zero. The wide angle of view and lack of sharpness will make the sought-after details literally disappear.

If you’d like to make classic landscape photos, we recommend you to use a common wide angle lens (18 to 24mm sounds good). They are sharper, have a lot less distortion, and their focal length is much more conventional for landscape photography.

Photos that have too much going on in the frame

You probably already got the point of this article. Ultra wide angle lenses just don’t perform too well with photos have many things going on in the frame. Photos like these shot with an ultra wide angle glass will simply look crammed.

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