Thursday, April 4, 2013

Enhancing Ultrawide Portraits (Nikon D7100 + Tokina 11-16 f/2.8)

This past Easter we had brunch at our favorite local restaurant, and I took with me the Nikon D7100 and Tokina 11-16 f/2.8.  Not everyone likes ultrawides for shots with people, but I do.  I think they are fun and make the image a step removed from reality and more of an interpretation.  Here are the some of the postprocessing edits I use to make the most of my ultrawide.

Tokina 11-16 @ 16mm (24mm equivalent)

When I use an ultrawide, the background is an important element, and I don't want to blow out relevant highlights.  In this case, the restaurant had patio doors and I wanted the patio door light to act as key light for my wife so I asked her to sit at the chair that was facing the patio door at about a 45 degree angle.  :) The light inside the restaurant was somewhat dim, resulting in a high contrast scene.  To avoid blowing the highlights, the shot had to be underexposed.  Usually if I put Active D-Lighting on Extra High that results in enough underexposure to avoid blowing out highlights, so I took that short cut and it did choose the kind of exposure I wanted.  Here is how the shot looked SOOC.

In post, I didn't simply use the shadow slider by itself because I think the results from that look artificial.  I brought up the exposure +1.3 EV, reduced highlights (-50) to compensate from the increase in exposure, and added some shadow recovery (+30).

I found to my dismay that there was banding when viewed at 100% even though I didn't push the image much because I had selected 12-bit raw with lossy compression and had not yet known about the negative consequences of doing that on the D7100 (see this post).  Lesson learned.

Anyway, back to the topic... like I mentioned I like ultrawides even for people shots.  I know some photographers don't, partly because ultrawides can cause unflattering distortion.  In particular, people can appear as if they are being stretched to the edge (volume anamorphosis), as in this shot. See my son and the top of our waitresses's head:

Sometimes the effect looks ok or can even flatter the subject if used skillfully (e.g. by making legs look longer).  When it is distracting, it's not the end of the world -- I just add barrel distortion, which is very easy to do in Lightroom.  Yes, straight lines will look curved but people will look like they have more normal proportions.

Here is another example:

With barrel distortion added:

I can do something similar with the adaptive wide angle filter in Lightroom, but I don't use that approach as often because I would have to use content aware fill which is not very effective for busy backgrounds like the one here.

BTW, the distortion of an ultrawide is not unavoidable.  If the subjects are near the middle of the frame, there won't be too much distortion, as in this shot:

Another thing I should mention is that when using ultrawides, I have to be careful with what gets included in the shot.  In the shots above for example, before taking the shot, I quickly scanned the frame for distracting elements, then moved them out of the way as necessary, or moved some objects such as the bottles to better positions.

Sometimes though when there's a spontaneous event that I want to capture, like this happy moment between my wife and daughter, I don't have the time to fix the scene and I end up capturing distracting elements.  This was how the shot looked:

 In this case I just had to do a little bit of cleanup in post to remove the napkin using the content-aware spot healing brush.

Ultrawide for Low Light Tokina 11-16
Ultrawide Portraits with Sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6
When Not to Use Lens Correction


  1. Quite clever to add barrel distortion to a photo, in order to reduce the apparent distortion of parts of the image. Never would have thought to do this, thanks.


    1. Thanks Russell. Good to hear from you my friend!

      Best regards,

  2. I discovered this technique too. It works well.


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