Wide Angle Distortion – Does this Lens Make me Look Fat?

Over Labor Day weekend I spent some time playing with my regular lens walk around lens, Canon’s 24-104, but using it at the wide angle setting. I know that wide angle lenses can cause distortion and have particularly noticed curved horizons as the a byproduct of working with the wide angle. Converging verticals and keystoning are also other hallmarks of a wide angle lens.

I’ve read all this in books but hadn’t really internalized it until I made this image:

Sort of annoying because I wanted to include a big open sky.

Keeping the sensor parrallel to the lighthouse resulted in this:

A little better. When I got this home I used the function within lightroom to correct for the lens used and got this image:

I looked at this for a while but couldn’t put my finger on what was the problem with it. Then it dawned on me. Correcting for lens distortion made the lighthouse ‘chunkier’ than it actually seems in real life. There’s a lesson for all of us in that – be careful with automatic settings. They work great the majority of the time but not always.

I finally decided on how I wanted the image to look and came up with this:

Tons of fun and some good lessons.

4 thoughts on “Wide Angle Distortion – Does this Lens Make me Look Fat?

  1. What a wonderful lesson this is, and what a fine image you captured ultimately. I’ll bet it’s beautiful in color, too.

    I do a bunch of portraits of kids and have discovered when I use my 28-70 Nikon lens, it makes people look shorter and thicker, especially in the portrait mode. Someone told me that I should be focusing at about the level of the belly button rather than at the eyes. Can you explain that to me with your new wisdom?

  2. Nice post, but frankly in the time being I’ve given up correcting distortions in my images when taken with fisheye lens. I actually use it now to MAKE the distortion.
    when I decide to take a large portion of the scene, I would go for a simple handheld panorama (2 to 3 shots, or even 4 shots) and then stitch them together. It’s not a full panorama so it should be a piece of cake really.
    The problem with distortions is, to fix them, you would end up cropping some portions of the image, which might cause to lose some details you want on the edges or so.

    • Hi TJ – Thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right – fixing distortions in the computer requires that your crop the image which in turn will mean that you’ll lose some part of the photo. Which is a problem if you didn’t shoot with that in mind. My revelation here was that I had been mindlessly using the camera profile function in lightroom, and while this is generally good, it’s not always perfect. Another reminder that ‘auto’ needs to be used judiciously.


  3. Hi Andy,

    The wide B&W photo is indeed the one that best represents the scene. It’s a great choice. Incidentally I just posted a more aggressively cropped image (though without perspective correction) on shapedbylight.com but I think it works too.

    A key observation from the exercise you performed is that a perspective corrected image done properly as you have done, will yield an image that is virtually similar to the one where the perspective was originally maintained by keeping the camera straight.

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