How to Achieve a Wider Field of View without a Wider Lens

Photo by Michael Baxter of Michael Baxter LLC

Photographing interiors presents a compositional challenge; how to capture a wide field of view without using an extreme wide angle lens. Although acceptable for real estate sales, overly-exaggerated depth is not so popular among the design community, who want the image to resemble the actual space. 24mm is generally regarded as the longest usable focal length for capturing wide interior views. While there is certainly spatial distortion, it strikes the balance between seeing enough of the space while retaining detail. The problem is that it is often still not wide enough, which is why manufacturers have developed lenses as wide as 12mm for full-frame sensors. These lenses provide a field of view that is close to the peripheral vision of the human eye, but at the expense of deepening the space to the point that it looks rather “cavernous”.

Wide angle photography inherently makes a room appear larger and deeper, but there are alternatives to achieving a wider field of view without the need for an extreme wide angle lens. The combination of a shift lens and multi-photo stitching provide an excellent solution. The down side is that it requires an investment in time and money, making it an option for the quality minded photographer. In this example, the interior was captured by stacking (stitching) three horizontal images in a vertical format. By pairing a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Pentax 645 (Medium Format) 35mm lens via the Zork PSA (Panoramic Shift Adapter), I was able to capture the field of view of a 21mm lens (35mm equivalent) while minimizing exaggerated depth. As a bonus the image resolution was substantially increased, allowing for a high resolution vignette shot to be cropped from the wide. Due to space limitations, my only other option would have been to capture a single image using a 21mm wide lens in vertical orientation, which would have significantly distorted the apparent depth of the space.

Because all spaces are not designed equally, I have often found that the standard 35mm aspect ratio does not allow me to capture enough of the space vertically, even if the width of the composition is satisfactory. In this example, the space limitations were such that I chose to use my Canon 24mm shift lens. In addition to it’s primary purpose (correcting perspective), the added benefit of a shift lens is the ability to cover a wider field of view than a standard lens. In this case, I shifted vertically in both directions to capture more of the space. The overlay shows how the images would have been cropped had I not been able to shift the element. Again, a wider lens would have been required to capture this amount of detail.

In the next example, I used my Canon 24mm shift lens to capture more field of view horizontally, rather than using a wider lens which would add excessive sky and ground that would then need to be cropped off, at the expense of pixels. This also prevented any further depth exaggeration. The image benefits from a wide field of view while retaining detail. With a 21 megapixels sensor, does it really matter if some of the resolution gets cropped? It all depends on your final output. If it’s for web then it won’t be missed, but if it’s for a large print then the extra pixels count.

In this final example, I needed more resolution than my camera provided, because this image was to be used as a 9x40ft banner running the length of an exercise room, in a luxury condo development. By using a combination of a shift lens (for perspective control) and a panoramic stitching head, I was able to capture an extremely wide field of view, with minimal distortion. The resulting image provided sufficient resolution for a detailed large-format print.

The process of stitching multiple images together is nothing new. It’s been done for scenics, interiors, virtual reality applications, etc. for years. Many architectural photographers use these methods to improve their photography. I use it to create high resolution images that capture the essence of the architecture and design I’m photographing. It’s not for everyone, but those who truly enjoy the creative and technical process of digital photography.

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