Wide Angle Lenses - 4 Challenges To Overcome
When it comes to architecture photography a wide-angle lens is by far the most popular tool. Wide angle lenses are great for capturing grand sweeping ballrooms, halls or staircases and is just an all-around great tool for “fitting in more”.
Over recent times people have started opting for 12mm or even 11mm lens options, which are beautiful lenses - however there is a time and a place for this kit. And there are certainly a few things you want to be aware of when it comes to shooting and post processing your wide-angle images.
Chromatic aberration, also known as “colour fringing” or “purple fringing is something that occurs with all lenses, but wide angle lenses seem to be a bit more susceptible to this and when shooting scenes that are high in contrast if you are not careful the results can be awful.
Thankfully, it is relatively easy to remove chromatic aberration using Lightroom. There’s two ways to accomplish this, an 'Auto' feature that will automatically locate and remove any chromatic aberration and a 'Manual' option that you can use if the auto method doesn't produce your desired results.
The dreaded purple and sometimes green fringing are most commonly found around the windows or where dark areas meet light areas in the frame - it is easy to spot.
You can see an example of this below, sometimes this is very difficult to fix in camera but luckily in this instance it can be done in Lightroom.
Under the “Lens Correction” tab in Lightroom you will see a Profile and a Manual tab. The Remove Chromatic Aberration and Profile corrections are under Profile. But then under the manual tab there are some more options, including one for de-fringe.
Below are the options I select to remove the purple showing through in the ceiling of my unedited image. This was applied in small increments until the purple was removed, there is no need to over-do it. It is also possible to remove this in Photoshop as well, but for now I will leave this for another time.
I normally use a few techniques in my images to correct these issues, it depends on the scene - for example if there is a little light spill on a window sill on the right side and not the left, it is simple to copy from the left and pop it straight over the right side damage without a lot of hassle.
All lenses have some distortion associated with them, but wide-angle lenses generally suffer with the worst kind. There are two types of distortion you need to be aware of, lens distortion and perspective distortion. Lens distortion is caused by the lens itself, but perspective distortion is caused by the angle in which you capture your image (we cover this more in the next section).
In a nutshell, it’s when a lens produces curved lines where straight lines should be. The two most common types of lens distortion are barrel distortion and pincushion distortion. Again both can be corrected with a few button clicks in Lightroom or similar software and usually the software comes with the profile of your lens and camera combo build in as and when the software is updated, if not you can download a profile (if it is a new of specialist lens for instance) made by the public from the lens profile download platform.
Depending on your lens, age and condition sometimes the distortion can be worse than others, this example is taken by my friend Dan using his 12-24mm Sigma lens, you would think there is not much of note to begin with, right?
However, if we jump into Lightroom and tick the “Enable Profile Corrections” box under the Lens correction tab we see another story develop. The image below the Lightroom screenshot is corrected but not edited.
When you’re composing your image, if your camera is pointed slightly up or down, you’re more than likely going to have perspective distortion within your photo. Especially if the building is huge, it will look like the building is leaning backwards in the final shot.
If you run into this issue, Lightroom has a great way to remove perspective distortion. Lightroom gives you the ability to resolve any converging and diverging lines that exists within your image, in order to accurately replicate the scene as you saw it when you captured your image.
You can also make a grid and straighten imagery in Photoshop, there is a great video of this created very recently by Arron Nace over at PHLEARN showing you how to straighten using this method.
Use Keystone to your advantage
Shooting with the 16-35mm, I used the keystone to my advantage in this next shot example. Without a tilt-shift lens this was the best shot option, which I then corrected in Lightroom. This was because of the high ceiling in this disused theatre room.
Just simply head to the Transform section and then you can select “Auto” or manually correct. Also make sure to tick the constrain crop or manually crop with the crop tool after this.
Sometimes you need to manually “tweak” the transform settings (below auto) just to make the frame look right. Also note - if you have a lower resolution camera you do loose some image quality using this method but unless you are printing this image, it is irrelevant. I was using my Canon 5DSR and the last image below, shows all other adjustments as well.
The stretching of the foreground
This is a tough one, as in landscape photography, this can be used creatively (for example to exaggerated diagonals like sand in the foreground) but in architecture photography this can be a huge issue, especially if you are working for a client that is proud of their work (an architect for example).
Sometimes the better shot selection is narrower, for example 24 or 35mm rather than 16 or 15mm (Full frame equivalent). This compresses the scene a little and allows subjects to look natural and normal.
With a wide angle and a full frame camera for instance, your camera captures a very wide scene that includes a lot of space, and to make a strong image you must ensure that every area of the image is doing something for you and your eye. In the example below I used 16mm, but positioned the camera lower - this stretched the sand and made it appear like a much larger dune.
The wider the field of view, the more space and then subsequently stretched architecture you need to consider and it is for this reason that. I sometimes explain this in my photography workshops that less is more and that occasionally 11 or 12mm is indeed, over-kill.
Bonus tip - Try a Tilt-Shift Lens
If you have never heard of a tilt-shift lens, you are in for a treat. In the old days when people used box cameras, photographers could fine-tune the camera to combat distortion. Essentially the photographer could minimize if not eliminate the tilted look of tall buildings.
A tilt-shift lens allows you to make these same fine-tuning adjustments, keeping everything straight. The shift function of the camera allows the photographer to capture the tallest of skyscrapers while maintaining straight lines along the side of the subject. With any other lens, you will get tremendous distortion whenever you tilt a wide-angle lens upwards.
Another cool aspect of a tilt-shift lens is the tilt aspect. Using the tilt function, you can keep different elements in focus on different focus plains. If you have ever seen a photo or time-lapse of a street scene that looks like a miniature town, this is how it’s done. By photographing from up high and using the tilt function, you can create a miniature effect by using this selective focal plane. The only downside to this lens is its price. It’s a very expensive lens, especially if you are not doing architectural photography full time. I recommend renting it first and seeing if you like it.
Mine recently broke whilst in Lebanon, thankfully I have found a guy to repair it in Tbilisi, Georgia. I have honestly missed it; you do not realise how much you use one until you own one.
Thank you for reading, James.
I shot these images with the following gear: (please be aware that these are affiliate links , by using them, if you purchase equipment or goods it costs you nothing more but I do receive a little kick back which supports me and my work).
Two Lenses used for these images:
And my NEW gimbal: