What is a Wide Angle Lens Used For in Photography

As a new photographer, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the vast selection of lenses available to choose from. Wide angle lenses are extremely popular and, when used properly, can help you create stunning images.

This guide will take an in-depth look at wide angle lenses and what they are used for. We’ll explain the different types of wide angle lenses and discuss the many different ways photographers put their wide angle lenses to use.

Camera with wide angle lens
Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

What is a wide angle lens?

Wide angle lenses can be described as lenses that have a wider field of view than our own vision. In terms of focal length, that means a lens 35mm or less is considered to be a wide angle lens.

With a wide angle lens, objects that are closer to the camera appear larger than objects that are farther away, resulting in distortion of the image. The wider the lens, the more pronounced this distortion will be.

Wide angle lenses also have a very wide depth of field, so it’s easy to keep everything in focus unless it’s very close to your lens. You can find wide angle lenses from all major brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Sigma, and others.

What are the different types of wide angle lenses?

Wide angle lenses range from standard to ultra-wide. Additionally, they are available in prime (fixed focal length) or zoom (variable focal length) with a wide range of maximum apertures. Here are the categories of telephoto lenses:

  • Standard wide angle: 35mm – 24mm
  • Wide angle: 24mm – 16mm
  • Ultra wide angle: 16mm and below

What is a fisheye lens?

Fisheye lenses are ultra wide angle lenses with a full 180º angle of view. They are named after the distinctive rounded look achieved by the extreme barrel distortion they create. Fisheye lenses are typically 10mm – 6mm wide and are usually used for artistic and creative purposes.

Fisheye photo
Photo by id23 on Unsplash

Does a wide angle lens zoom?

A new photographer may be confused by the term “zoom” when it comes to lenses. It’s referring to their ability to change between focal lengths, not a reference to how far a lens can reach. That said, you can have a wide angle lens that is also a zoom lens!

Popular wide angle zoom lenses include the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 or the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art lens. On the other hand, you can also find wide angle lenses that are prime lenses, meaning they only have one focal length.

However, prime lenses are typically faster, lighter, and cheaper than zoom lenses. Popular wide angle prime lenses include the Canon 24mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 20mm f/1.8.

When to use a wide angle lens

Wide angle lenses are a must-have for landscape photographers, real estate photographers, street photographers, and some wedding photographers, too. Because of their extreme field of view, it seems obvious that you’ll want to reach for your wide angle when you want to capture a big scene. However, that’s not the only time to use a wide angle lens.

Here are several ways to use a wide angle lens:

To photograph landscapes

A wide angle lens is the perfect tool for the job when you want to capture a massive mountain range, the vastness of an empty beach, or the depth of a forest. Basically, any time you want to fit as much into your frame as possible.

Landscape shot with wide angle lens
Landscape photography

To exaggerate perspective

We mentioned earlier how wide angle lenses distort objects by making anything closer to the lens appear larger and things further back appear smaller. Use this distortion to your advantage to exaggerate the size of your subject or bring attention to objects in your foreground.

Wide angle lens exaggerates perspective
Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

To shoot architecture

Wide angle lenses are a necessity for shooting architecture and real estate photography, where it’s essential to fit large buildings or interiors in your shot.

When photographing subjects with a lot of straight lines, like buildings, you may need to rely on post-processing to correct the barrel distortion inherent with this type of lens, but that’s easily done with a program like Adobe Photoshop.

photograph architecture with wide angle lens

To create an image with negative space

It may seem strange, but one of the best uses of a wide angle lens is to use it to capture a lot of blank space. Negative space can be an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to composition, and having a wide field of view gives you a lot of room to play around with it.

negative space
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

To shoot cityscapes

If you’re looking to capture a busy city street, a nighttime skyline, or a large crowd, reach into your camera bag for a wide angle lens, and you’ll have no trouble catching the entire cityscape.

Photo by Conor Luddy on Unsplash

To capture the night sky

Nearly all shots of the night sky, especially the Milky Way, are taken with a wide angle lens, especially one with a wide aperture of f/2.8 or higher. They are simply the best choice for capturing the huge expanse of the sky when the stars and Milky Way spread from one end of the sky to the other.

night sky shot with a wide angle lens
Night sky

Final thoughts

As you can see from this guide, a wide angle lens is a must-have for your camera bag if you’re at all interested in photographing landscapes, cityscapes, architecture, or street photography.

Depending on your style of photography, it may end up being the most used lens in your kit.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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