Perspective - A Distorted Tale

Hi everyone, Rob here. Put a wide angle lens up to your eye and things look farther away and some objects look distorted. Do the same with a telephoto lens, and objects look closer. They seem magnified and objects appear compressed. This phenomenon is called perspective distortion and some folks would say that each lens provides a different perspective. But how’s this for shaking things up?

Perspective is not controlled by the lens.

Moving in close to the foreground grass helps give this image a sense of depth. 

That’s right. Perspective has nothing to do with the focal length of the lens you are using. It is solely a function of the lens-to-subject distance. You see, the closer you are to an object, the larger it appears. The farther from the object, the smaller it appears. 

The reason that wide angle lenses get so much credit for this distortion is that they can focus so much closer than a longer lens. My 16-35mm lens, at 16mm, can focus as close as 11 inches. The closest focusing distance on my 50mm lens is double that. And the closest focusing distance on my 70-200mm lens is almost 4 feet. 

Now, some may think that “distortion” is a bad thing. But, quite the contrary. Perspective distortion helps provide visual cues for distance. It is this distortion that gives many of our photographs a sense of depth. After all, we are capturing images of this wonderful 3-dimensional world and displaying them on a medium with only two dimensions. Perspective distortion helps our brains interpret depth in our subjects. The more you exaggerate this, the more depth is perceived. 

I used a fisheye lens to really exaggerate the perspective of this image. After all, the star is really the hot dog.

This is the original image from the camera using a Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye with a 180° angle of view. You can see my feet in the image. I didn't care too much about the background since I was masking the subject anyway. 

And don’t think that you need to stop at a realistic looking image. Exaggerate your perspective and you can get some really eye-catching images.

Now, go get your wide angle lens and start looking at the world in an exaggerated way. You’ll be surprised at the results.