How to correct wide angle lens distortion

By Ian Middleton

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If you’ve ever photographed a building from street level looking upwards with a wide angle lens, then you have no doubt seen the effect of wide angle lens distortion. The wide angle distorts the building and bends the vertical lines. This is called barrel distortion.

Optical zooms and Focal length

Focal length example

As you can see in the picture here, light passes through the lens and falls upon the focal plane. In an optical zoom the distance between the lens and the focal plane is known as the focal length.

 

50mm – standard field of view equal to what we see with our eyes
Below 50mm = wide angle
Above 50mm = telephoto

This is based on using film or a full frame sensor. The point at which the lens becomes wide angle will vary if using a cropped sensor.

A cropped sensor will be different and the effective wide angle threshold will depend on the crop factor. For example, with an APS sensor that has a crop factor of 1.3x, the wide angle threshold is 38mm

How to work it out: (50 /1.3 = 38) so anything below 38mm is wide angle, and anything above is telephoto.

Focal length and angle of light

Image courtesy of www.cambridgeincolour.com

For long focal lengths, the longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of light, and thus the narrower the field of view.

If you look at the diagram above you can see how the narrower angle of view has essentially cropped away a part of the scene you are seeing through the lens. Think of it as cropping part of the photo away.

Conversely, a wide angle effectively stretches the angle of light, and thus the image, and allows a wider view than the normal 50mm will allow. Just like a zoom or telephoto allows you get closer without actually moving further forward, a wide angle allows you get further away without actually moving further back. This can be useful when you don’t have room to move back. But again, this comes at a price: wide angle lens distortion

How much distortion you get will depend on the angle at which you shoot:

Shoot level and straight: When you do this you will minimise the warping effect on objects in your image with straight lines.
Get low and shoot upwards: This accentuates the warping and when done properly can add drama to a landscape image.

with wide angle lens distortion
The hanging gallows of Combe Gibbet, on Gallows Down near the village of Combe, West Berkshire / Hampshire border. Erected in 1676 for the purpose of displaying the bodies of George Broomham and Dorothy Newman after their execution for murdering his wife, but has only ever been used for them. The gibbet was placed in this prominent location as was meant as a warning, to others of what happens to criminals. I grew up near here and often visited this place, but only thought of photographing it now. As luck would have it, I arrived as a storm was blowing over at sunset, blessing this region with stunning light as the clouds cleared over from the west. This hill provides commanding views across Hampshire and West Berkshire.
Corrected using adobe camera RAW
The hanging gallows of Combe Gibbet, on Gallows Down near the village of Combe, West Berkshire / Hampshire border. Erected in 1676 for the purpose of displaying the bodies of George Broomham and Dorothy Newman after their execution for murdering his wife, but has only ever been used for them. The gibbet was placed in this prominent location as was meant as a warning, to others of what happens to criminals. I grew up near here and often visited this place, but only thought of photographing it now. As luck would have it, I arrived as a storm was blowing over at sunset, blessing this region with stunning light as the clouds cleared over from the west. This hill provides commanding views across Hampshire and West Berkshire.
So sit back, relax and watch my video tutorial on how to correct this distortion using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Camera RAW

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Disclosure:

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