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When Does Wide Angle Become Too Wide?

Published: 19/06/2007

I got a e-mail from Dom, a German photographer that wanted to raise the issue of "over doing it" with ultra-wide angle lenses. He says:

"But there´s one point I´m straightly opposite to yours and that´s the lens.

I would recommend just a 28-35mm lens on 35mm/fullframe (d)SLRs or for digital DX nothing less then 20mm. Here´s why:

If I shoot the way you used to (and most of the ones outside doin´) in the advertising my room seems to be very large and nice, that´s why you all are doing that.

Problem is, that reality can not mess with it. You face that if you showing your client the real estate and his first impression is:
>>Uhh! I thought it was bigger.<<

Bad position to start a sales talk.

If a single wall in a room can not get in one shot you can stitch. It requires some accuracy and time, but that´s why you get paid instead the Realtor doing it himself."

Dom's point is that there are downsides to using a lens that is too wide. The perspective looks strange and exaggerated and can make an average living room look like a bowling alley. For my taste the place where wide angle starts to become too wide is around 24mm. Below 24mm perspective starts to look strange because it is vastly different than the human eye. The image above is shot at 16mm. The white coffee table in the foreground has strange distorted look and depth of the room is very exaggerated. This is the effect that Dom is talking about.

I know I have many examples on this blog that were shot between 16 and 24mm. When I first got my 16-35mm zoom in 2003 I shot with it at 16mm most of the time. I admit I was infatuated with ultra wide shots. But I got negative feedback. One seller call the photos "cartoon like" one potential buyer called about a listing and ranted on about how I had purposely distorted the images to make them look bigger. Since then I've managed to get hold of myself.

Now days here is my rule of thumb: I try not go below 24mm unless there are unusual circumstances like a small powder room or important room that I need to shoot but just can't do it without going lower. But to me 28mm is just not wide enough. There is a lot (8 degrees) of HFOV difference between 28mm and 24mm. Sorry Dom we'll have to agree to disagree.

I'd like to hear what others experiences are on how wide is too wide.

June 19 update:

By perspective distortion I do not mean converging verticals. I can tell by peoples comments that many think I'm talking about converging verticals. The term exaggerated perspective is probably a better term. The exaggerated perspective I'm talking about here is making the room look much bigger than it is.

Larry Lohrman

20 comments on “When Does Wide Angle Become Too Wide?”

  1. You do have a point but I'm seeing more and more agents themselves using dslr cameras with wide angle lenses for all their pics. Once all your images are wide angle they become preportionate so you can still tell one properties bedroom is large than the other. I don't think you should go really ultra wide if not necessary and confine to the two corners of a wall. I also think people have gotten used to it and can their eye is trained tosee a room has been taken at a wide angle.
    What I really don't like (apart from flash) is these arty shots of a room just showing a pillow, headboard and flowers which only serve to flatter the photographer and don't show the room

  2. I have a Panasonic FZ50 with a wide angle converter. I'm not sure how my converter compares with a wide angle lens though. It's a Raynox conversion lens 0.66X. Can anyone convert into a mm equivelant? I've found that if I have the converter on in an already large room, I have some adjusting to do to the perspective of the picture. But if it's in an average size room it comes out just fine. There are also times when I'm in photoshop correcting things and actaully wonder if it looks goofy or not?! I often have to get a second opinion because I think my eyes are playing tricks on me! Yet, when I'm producing the 360° tours with the lens on they look great!?
    Have a look at some of my pics and let me know if any look distorted....


  3. From a more dogmatic perspective, less than 24mm starts to create more work in the digital lab. However, the client not only pays for the making of an image but really the creativity necessary to provide all the details the client needs to "show" a home. So rather than get hung up on specific numbers, I shoot a wide variety of focal lengths to "frame the shot" and may the best image(with hopefully the least post-processing) win!

  4. As a Realtor, I shoot all my photos wide. I use a canon 10-22 on my XTI camera. These photos are designed to sell the buyer on the need to see the property in person. While wide may make some rooms look too big... generally this is better than having the home look too small and no showings as a result.

    BTW... I am also a big fan of HDR via Photomatix. I have been shooting my own listings for 18 years and I enjoy photography. I know I do not have the time to carry (and setup) a huge lighting setup or the patience to set up strobes (I have tried), so HDR works well for me.

    These sites are all shot wide and with HDR...

  5. I may not have made my point very clear. When you choose to shoot with wide angle lens below 24 mm there is a perspective "distortion" that occurs. It's not actually distortion, it's a perspective that is exaggerated because it's different than our built-in eye optics. Some people find this objectionable.

    One example of this is that the top Architectural photographers don't shoot rooms with a 15mm or 16mm lens. E.g. you never see a ultra-wide shot in Architectural Digest... Why? It's because of this distaste for exaggerated perspective.

  6. Linda,
    Your Panasonic FZ50 has a 35mm to 420mm lens built-in... These are 35mm equivalent focal lengths. If you zoom is set to it's widest angle (35mm) and you screw on your Raynox .66 x converter the widest angle becomes 35x.66=23.1mm

  7. Larry,

    It's been said on here before, architectural photography isn't the same as Real Estate photography. That being said, I'm only just starting to see the difference. Shots "showing a pillow, headboard and flowers" don't just flatter the photographer, they are essential for interior decorators but MVUS is right in the fact that they don't really belong in a set of Real Estate images. By the same token if your shooting for Architectural Digest you probably don't want to shoot ultra-wide as a rule but I find that for the most part Realtors like the ultra-wide look as long as the image has been "fixed". That way the client can get a good look at the space with fewer images, after all we are all very used to the 30 second commercial, more than that taxes peoples attention span.

    That said, there is a reason that we carry the tool box that we do. The tools that we have in them all serve a different purpose. You would drive a nail with a screw driver would you? With that in mind it's possible that you might stand back across a room and shoot a detail with your 200mm in order to flatten the background more dramatically. (probably not likely but you might) I guess what I'm saying is do what your client wants (in your case Larry that doubly important as your client is your wife *grin*). Right now, after looking at a ton of images I'm beginning to understand what the differences are in the Architectural sub categories: If I'm shoot for an architect trying to get into a magazine I may not shoot everything in super wide, if I'm working for a realtor I'll get lots of angels almost all at super-wide and I'll adjust them in Photoshop, if I'm shooting for an interior designer I'll get lots of "artsy" details of their work.

    So, to sum it up, I'll use the tool that best suits the job...

    That's my take on things at this minute, peace

  8. P.S. After thinking about it you do see lots of wide angle shots in Architectural Digest, they're just adjusted... Not everything is shot that way but a lot is... Get to know the lens correction tool, or shoot 4x5.

  9. The photo shown in this entry would be improved greatly by simpling placing the table parallel to the wall. Photos of rooms framed with an ultra-wide field-of-view often appear larger than life. While careful framing can minimize this effect, customers can get the wrong feel for a room even when the framing is optimal.

    If realty web sites accommodated portrait format images, then this room's attractive windows and high ceiling could be showcased using a longer focal length. Many realtor web sites do not accommodate photos with a 1:3 landscape aspect ratio (two stitched 2:3 images). . How could stitching highlight the the best features of this room (high ceiling, attractive windows, built in book shelves)? Stitching images is not a complete solution

    One alternative to including the whole room in the image is to photograph the room from two or three views that either show the relationship of the room to the home's floor plan, or include the room's important features. Of course this means more web images per listing.

    To my eyes, ultra-wide field-of-view, fun house-mirror look is even worse in some 360 tour presentations. Is a 360 tour practical for most homes using a medium-wide field-of-view (30mm or greater focal length or greater based on a 35mm format)?

    Anyway, I think the room shown in this entry requires two photos – one with an ultra-wide field-of-view to highlight the windows and high ceiling and another to more accurately give a feel for the room size while showing off the built-in shelves.

    Because of this entry I will pay more attention to how to use the minimum possible field-of-view. I agree with Gary, when an ultra-wide field-of-view gets the job done, I'll use it. But I'll double my efforts to plan the framing in order to minimize the disadvantages of these focal lengths. There is so much to learn, remember and apply. But the joy of interior photography is overcoming the challenges.

  10. larrylohrman Says:
    "Now days here is my rule of thumb: I try not go below 24mm unless there are unusual circumstances like a small powder room"

    Are you talking about using a 16/17mm lens on a standard 2/3rds snesor digital DSLR ie. 24mm?

    My point is, does the same room shot at 12mm look more distorted on a 2/3rds sensor like a Nikon (=18mm) than an 18mm shot on full frame camera like the Canon 5D?

  11. I use a 10-20 wide all the time. The 18-55 I started with would not reveal the size of the the masterbath or a home with large spacious rooms and views. Large rooms can not be properly revealed with an 18mm lens. The important thing is to use the wide with disgression! It will make small rooms look bigger than they are! Proper use of a wide will give you the edge over photographers/agents who do not. I want large views of large rooms, gardens, yards, and views.

  12. MVUS,
    Sorry for the confusion, when I use focal lengths I always use 35mm equivalent focal lengths. You are right, otherwise I'd also have to say what camera I was talking about.

  13. Perspective distortions created by ultra-wide lenses can be corrected easily in Photoshop CS2.
    There are a number of plugins available (free) off the net, if you do a search.
    The two I have installed are "Panorama Tools" and "ePaperPress" which both will perform perspective adjustments (as well as other things too).

    After tweaking the perspective, you will need to crop the sides of the images, so you tend to loose the advantage of shooting that wide to begin with. Walls should always be vertical, this is how the eye sees them, and verticals that aren't vertical just look wrong... unless it's for artistic reasons, which would not apply to most RE shots.

  14. In Australia, Queensland in particular most Real Estate Photographer use 10-22mm, in my opinion it does distort the rooms in some cases beyond recognition. I believe this will change soon as the governing bodies of the Real Estate industry are receiving more and more complaints about misrepresenting properties.

    "Article 35 of the REIQ Standards of Business Practice. (REIQ- Real Estate Institute of Queensland)

    Article 35 - Photographic Representation
    Members must not alter or permit to be altered photographic images of properties, digitally or by other means, such that the images no longer truthfully and fairly represent that property.
    Notes: Whether the alteration of a photographic representation is misleading or deceptive will depend upon all of the circumstances. For example, digitally adjusting the exposure of a photograph so as to brighten the lighting of the photograph taken on a dull day may well be legitimate. However, removing television aerials or power poles adjacent to the property; brightening up paint work on a house or over-stating the views that might be achieved from the property may well amount to misleading or deceptive conduct. Members may well be liable for misleading representations contained in photographs that have originated from external sources such as an advertising sub-contractor or the seller. The passing on of such photographs by agents to potential buyers can amount to misleading or deceptive conduct by a Member. Members would be well advised to ensure that their contracts with advertising sub-contractors include provisions to ensure that the sub-contractors do not engage in misleading and deceptive conduct, including in connection with marketing representations contained in photographs."

  15. You can't "correct" perspectives. It exists, that's it. You can adjust it if you aren't leveled, but you can't simulate a longer focal after the shot and have the whole room with a 50mm like you had put down walls behind you.

    I think people are more and more used to very wide angle shots perspectives. See the press photographers, they use 16-35mm zooms (and have another body with a tele zoom) and are often around ~20mm instead of previous photojournalists focal, 35mm and 28mm.

  16. yes great points. from my experience in the RE photography field, our main purpose is to shoot images that are compelling enough to get someone to come and see the property. period. ethics comes into the equation when people are not representing the property even close to what it is in reality. but I think these are few and far between. I shoot almost every interior image at around 11-12mm, and play with my verticals and such to make them look good.

  17. If people are not complaining about the downright bad photography of a homes, I guess we have a while before they start complaining about it being "too good". Seriously, this is advertising! As a Listing agent, I'm not making a documentary. I'm trying to get people in the door. Despite how good, or bad, the marketing was that led them there, it will not sell the house. The house (or location in some cases) will sell the house.

    As far as the wide angle lens goes, I mostly shoot around 28 and I rarely have to spend a lot of time editing. If I need a wider angle I'll stitch or just use the video camera to get a pano or a shoot with some motion in it. As far as the 16mm in the sample photo, I personally wouldn't have gone that wide. Then again I probably wouldn't have shoot head on like that either...

  18. The letter provided in the opening post is exactly what came to mind last night after reading another related blog elsewhere, using a 10mm lens example. It occurred to me that expectations could be blown out of proportion.

    I was thinking that an 11-16mm or 12-24mm might be a slightly better alternative. Providing wider views, but not excessive.

    But in a wider room, like 40 feet wide, an even wider lens like Fisheye might be in order, because it would be hard to exaggerate it.


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