Foundations of Photography: Specialty Lenses
Illustration by Petra Stefankova

Working with ultra-wide lenses


Foundations of Photography: Specialty Lenses

with Ben Long

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Video: Working with ultra-wide lenses

On a camera with a full-frame sensor--that is a sensor that is the same size as a piece of 35-mm film--we typically think of wide angle to be a lens with a focal length between 24 mm and 50 mm. Curiously, 10 years ago I would have said 28 and 50 mm, but thanks to advances in engineering and manufacturing, high quality 24-mm lenses can now be made very affordable. Once you go shorter than 24 mm, you're into the realm of the ultra-wide, which is what we're going to explore in this chapter.
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  1. 4m 10s
    1. Welcome
      1m 46s
    2. Roadmap of the course
      2m 24s
  2. 3m 53s
    1. Words about focal length
      2m 6s
    2. Understanding camera position
      1m 47s
  3. 39m 19s
    1. What filters are for
      2m 37s
    2. Shopping for filters
      3m 55s
    3. Understanding neutral density filters
      4m 53s
    4. Applying neutral density filters
      3m 55s
    5. Polarizing filters
      3m 4s
    6. Some shooting tips for working with a polarizing filter
      2m 32s
    7. Using infrared filters
      9m 15s
    8. Processing the infrared image
      6m 7s
    9. Handling stuck filters
      3m 1s
  4. 38m 37s
    1. Working with ultra-wide lenses
      7m 19s
    2. Using a wide-angle lens
      4m 43s
    3. Understanding fisheye lenses
      4m 2s
    4. Working with fisheye lenses
      3m 59s
    5. Understanding fisheye exposure
      3m 3s
    6. Taking fisheye further
      4m 16s
    7. Processing fisheye and wide-angle images
      7m 38s
    8. Correcting tone in fisheye images
      3m 37s
  5. 35m 37s
    1. Understanding super telephoto
      6m 21s
    2. Shooting distant subjects
      8m 26s
    3. Compressing the sense of depth
      7m 53s
    4. Working with shallow depth of field
      5m 35s
    5. Working with teleconverters
      2m 38s
    6. Editing telephoto images
      4m 44s
  6. 16m 47s
    1. Understanding macro basics
      2m 47s
    2. Shooting close
      4m 52s
    3. Shooting macro
      5m 20s
    4. Working with a point-and-shoot for macro
      1m 58s
    5. Using a two-lens strategy
      1m 50s
  7. 16m 39s
    1. Understanding tilt shift
      3m 37s
    2. Correcting perspective
      4m 29s
    3. Creating the toy effect
      4m 41s
    4. Deepening depth of field
      3m 52s
  8. 32m 39s
    1. Working with specialty lenses
      2m 43s
    2. Using the Lensbaby
      9m 13s
    3. Working with the Lensbaby Macro attachment
      3m 50s
    4. Shooting with a Holga attachment
      3m 4s
    5. Using an alternative mount lens
      2m 18s
    6. Using super-fast lenses
      1m 47s
    7. Correcting Lensbaby images
      9m 44s
  9. 39m 48s
    1. Correcting perspective
      10m 41s
    2. Creating the toy effect
      6m 31s
    3. Getting the lo-fi Holga look
      11m 17s
    4. Reproducing the effect of a Lensbaby
      8m 17s
    5. Cropping and enlarging images
      3m 2s
  10. 2m 47s
    1. Choosing whether to borrow or buy
      2m 0s
    2. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Photography: Specialty Lenses
3h 50m Intermediate Dec 17, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Join photographer, author, and teacher Ben Long on location in San Francisco as he explores the creative options provided by the kinds of lenses and lens accessories that don't always make it into most camera bags.

The course begins with a look at several common and inexpensive lens attachments, from polarizers to neutral density filters. The course then explores ultra-wide angle and fisheye lenses as well as ultra-long telephoto and macro lenses. The course concludes with a look at tilt-shift lenses, which are useful for architectural photography and special effects, and at offbeat lenses, such as Lensbaby and Holga attachments.

The course also contains Photoshop postproduction advice and examples that illustrate the creative possibilities that an expanded lens collection provides. And because some specialty lenses are extremely expensive, the course also contains advice on renting gear.

Ben Long

Working with ultra-wide lenses

On a camera with a full-frame sensor--that is a sensor that is the same size as a piece of 35-mm film--we typically think of wide angle to be a lens with a focal length between 24 mm and 50 mm. Curiously, 10 years ago I would have said 28 and 50 mm, but thanks to advances in engineering and manufacturing, high quality 24-mm lenses can now be made very affordable. Once you go shorter than 24 mm, you're into the realm of the ultra-wide, which is what we're going to explore in this chapter.

On a full-frame sensor, ultra-wide lenses typically range from 16-24 mm wide. If you're using a cropped sensor camera then the ultra-wide focal length range is going to be more like 10 to 15 mm wide. Now, 8 mm may sound like a very small range. After all telephoto lenses range across hundreds of millimeters, but there is a surprising amount of difference in field of view when you get to very short focal lengths. For example, here is an image shot at 16 mm and here's the same scene zoomed out just 2 mm more.

That difference of 2 mm buys us quite a bit of additional field of view. As with wide-angle lenses of any focal length, as you shrink the length of your lens into the ultra-wide domain, you run the risk of distortion in your image. Distortion is the geometric warping that can occur in your images, especially in the corners and on the edges. Notice the curved blinds in the corner of this image. Now, they're noticeable but this is actually a very low amount of distortion for a lens this wide. This is a 16 mm. This lens actually has special optical elements in it that aimed to reduce spherical distortion.

And so, the lens is called a Rectilinear Lens. As much as possible, the engineers have worked to ensure that the lens produces straight lines. Once you go shorter than 16 mm, it gets very difficult to control distortion. This is why the ultra-wide domain has a bottom limit. Mind you, it's not impossible to build a wider lens without distortion, but to reduce distortion requires the addition of more lens elements, and that makes the lens bigger and heavier and more expensive. So what can you do with a Rectilinear Ultra-wide lens? As you might expect, it's a lot like what you can do with a normal wide-angle lens only more so, much more so.

Two things happen as focal length shrinks, your field of view increases and the sense of depth in the scene expands. Things in the distance will appear farther away and much smaller. This dramatically changes the entire sense of space in your scene and the relationships between objects that are closer and farther. Ultra-wides are great for shooting people in situations where you want to see their environment or things that they are holding or interacting with. When shooting people, you need to be very careful about distortion. With any wide-angle lens, it's very easy to create very unflattering portraits.

With an ultra-wide, you can really make people look weird. Ultra-wides can be very effective for shooting interiors. If you're going for accuracy, you'll need to be careful that you're not presenting an inaccurate sense of the space of the interior. But for small spaces, these lenses are a great way to capture a wide field of detail. I like ultra-wides for street shooting because when you're out on the street just walking around, you usually have an awareness of a fair amount of space around you. An ultra-wide lens lets you capture that expansive field while simultaneously giving you a kind of a more abstract wider view than what you would actually see.

Like all of the lenses we'll be looking at in this course, ultra-wides are useful anytime you want a very different take on something that you're used to regularly shooting. I often find they work very well in situations that you wouldn't always think of as being a wide-angle situation. Have fun with skies. Ultra-wides are great for capturing huge sky full of clouds. Geometry is also a great source of super wide subject matter. In addition to letting you capture longer lines and bigger geometric objects, ultra-wides let you show relationships between shapes and objects that you might not normally see.

No matter what lens you're using, you should always experiment with changes in point of view. But with ultra-wides, you can play a lot more. Because they can capture such a wide field of view, an ultra-wide lets you create really dramatic angles and interesting points of view that are very different from what you can capture with a longer lens. Move up, move down, and by all means get close. That's the easiest way to ensure that your subject is obvious in the frame when you're shooting with an ultra-wide. Now, many people are surprised to find that ultra-wide focal lengths are usually not very effective for shooting landscapes because they place the horizon so far away and they make it so small, an ultra-wide can easily shrink that big grand vista you're looking at to something really small and boring.

If you're going to shoot with an ultra-wide, you have to be ready to move your feet more. Using an ultra wide means getting very close to your subject, and as you work to minimize distortion and to find the best angle, you'll probably find that you have to move more than you do with a normal lens. To get the best results with an ultra-wide, you'll need to consider a few simple shooting practices. Take a look at this. This is video capture of a Canon 5D with a 16 to 35-mm lens. I've pulled the lens out to 16 mm. Watch the horizon as I tilt the lens up and down.

Now the middle stays fine, but look what happens to the edges, they bow up and down. When you're shooting with an ultra-wide, you have to pay very careful attention to the tilt of the camera. Even a slight tilt will cause distortion of the lines in your image, especially on the edge of the frame. You should also pay attention to the size of objects in your frame. Remember, closer things will appear to be much bigger than things that are even just a little bit far away. When you're shooting people, this can create some very strange proportions which aren't always flattering. You have to be careful with polarizers when you're using an ultra-wide angle lens.

The effect of a polarizer depends on the angle of the light that's hitting your subject, but with the huge fields of view, ultra-wide lenses don't necessarily have the same angle of light striking all elements across their frame. So you'll sometime see a change in polarization across the frame if you slap a polarizer on your ultra-wide lens. Similarly, exposure can be uneven across your image because your camera will meter for light sources that are included in the extreme edges of your frame. You'll sometimes find that your foreground is dark even though there are light sources on the edges of the frame.

Speaking of light sources on the edges of the frame, be sure to keep an eye out for lens flare when shooting with an ultra-wide and remember that lens flare isn't always those obvious circular artifacts on the image, sometimes it's simply a loss of contrast in your image. If that happens, you're going to want to try to shield your lens from the light source to get that reflection off the front of the lens. That should put some contrast back in your image and remove any of those circular patterns. If you are shooting with the sun behind you, then you'll need to be careful of your own shadow. If the sun is low, you may not be able to get as close as you like to a subject without seeing your own shadow in the frame.

Finally, when you're composing with an ultra-wide, be absolutely certain that you have a clearly defined subject. This can be hard with these lenses because there can be so many things in the frame that can distract, and because your subject might be rendered very small. So really take that extra effort to ensure that the subject of your shot is obvious. As you can see, there are many applications for these lenses, and we can't show you demonstrations of how to shoot all of them. But in the next movie, you're going to see me work at very particular type of shoot with an ultra-wide. And as I do, I'll let you know what I'm noticing, what I'm working with, and how I'm thinking about using the lens.

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