Overcome Barrel Distortion With These Simple Tips

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published February 21, 2018

toronto buildings photographed free of distorition

Shooting tall buildings with a wide angle lens is a prime candidate for barrel distortion. Don’t be afraid to leave room around the subject and crop down the image, helping you overcome barrel distortion. © Robert Lowdon

So, it has been 7 years since I originally wrote this post, “5 Tips to Overcome Barrel Distortion”. I would say I am bit wiser, and a little less “this is the way it is!”

There is still some relevant information in here regarding the use of wide-angle lenses in photography. As a commercial photographer traveling throughout Canada, I use a lot of different lenses, almost everything.

See the thing is, as a photographer can shoot anyway you want. Use distortion, or make the shot look crazy. Or make your images look normal it is up to you.

When as a photographer, you shoot for a client, things get a little different. Your getting paid for visually representing a location, item or person accurately.

We earn our income by making our subjects look good. So, barrel distortion can really mess up your photography, and it can stop a lot of clients from ever hiring you in the first place.

I do not want to tell anyone what to do with their photography, that is there decision. If you want to avoid barrel distortion in your photographs here are some tips. Here is 2012 Robert to explain it:

Generally, barrel distortion occurs when a wide-angle lens is used to photograph a subject with strong vertical or horizontal lines. Especially when photographing architecture, it is important that verticals stay straight.

These photographs of tall buildings in Toronto will give you some basis as to what I am talking about. Basically, a convex mirror effect is applied because the lens is bending the light, forcing a larger image area to be recorded on a smaller capture service. Or in super confusing mathematical formula format: R=(a* r ^ 3 + b * r ^2 + c + d).

Simply, objects closer to the camera appear larger and straight lines are curved and objects in background appear smaller and further away.

 

OVERCOME BARREL DISTORTION WITH THESE 5 EASY TIPS

1) SHOOT WITH A 50MM LENS (FULL FRAME SENSOR)

On a 35mm format camera a focal length of 50mm is almost identical to that of the human eye. Coincidentally, what you see is what you get. Furthermore, I strongly believe every person interested in photography should learn on a 50mm lens first before moving on to different lens types. Any lens with a shorter focal length will cause barrel distortion.

2) SHOOT PANORAMIC IMAGES.

Shooting a panoramic image allows you to use a lens with a longer focal length yet still capture a wide field of view. I will often shoot two or three image pans so I can create the exact image I want without adding distortion.

3) AVOID THE CORNERS OF THE LENS.

When shooting with a wide-angle lens always avoid putting subject matter in the edges of the frame. Barrel distortion increases exponentially as you move away from the centre of the lens. Photographing a group shot with a wide angle well often turn one or two members into a cone head.

4) FISHEYE LENS, NOT SO MUCH

A Fisheye looks good in maybe 1% of the instances you will have the opportunity to use one. It is a specialty lens that is more for dramatic effect.

Preventing and properly managing distortion is one of many key steps in the advancing the quality of your imagery.

OR FIX DISTORTION IN EDITING SOFTWARE

In 2018 you can use camera raw to fix and overcome barrel distortion use lens corrections, it is awesome. The software has become so good that barrel distortion is far less of an issue.

I also wrote this other one on how to use a wide angle lens properly. Also check out: What is the Perfect Shutter Speed?

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