Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

Started 2 months ago | Discussions thread
xpatUSA Forum Pro • Posts: 15,875
Re: Thanks and a summary

Ed Rizk wrote:

DMillier wrote:

As a wide angle fanatic, I always read threads like this to see if there are any new tips and tricks I can use. I was originally just lurking in the Sigma forum to see what was up with the new L mount camera, disappointing.

I have trouble seeing great telephoto shots like yours, because I started serious photography with wide angle due to my real estate business. It then bled over to my fun shots.

Your wide angle shots are not bad. They would be improved by very small adjustments, like getting a little lower with your beach shot.

One comment you made earlier is that you see your telephoto shots instantly. That doesn't happen with ultra wide. You see a scene, but it looks so much different with the UWA that you have to move around and look at different perspectives, in terms of angles and distances. It's a ponderous activity. Take your time.

Very small movements that would not be noticed with another kind of lens make a big difference with UWA.

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts on this.

I've compiled a list of hints and tips. Perhaps it will be useful to somebody. The trick, as always, is turning theory into effective images!

Wide angle lenses - dealing with compositional difficulties and exploiting characteristics


  • Subject elements not very close to the camera appear very small - clutters compositions with multiple competing minor interests and no obvious main subject
  • Tend to get a lot of unwanted foreground, sky, if not close enough to subject

The foreground is easily controlled by getting lower. The key to the sky is shooting on a day with a spectacular sky. There is nothing more boring in a UWA shot than a clear blue sky.

  • Even when there is a close main subject, it is easy for additional elements to pass unnoticed at edges of frame

Be ponderous and notice them.

Apparent distortion

  • Subjects close to lens exaggerated in size compared to midground and background

Use this to create a busy picture but with a clear hierarchy of importance to the elements.

  • Steep perspective to vanishing points as a result

Yes. Use that to focus the viewer's attention to the most important part of the image.

  • Objects near edges and corners pulled out of shape

This is an unavoidable problem with no artistic value that I have been able to figure out. Often I use vignette or edge blur to minimize it in post. Cropping works too, if you don't have more issues at the new edge.

  • If camera tilted up or down, verticals lean inwards or outwards

This one can be most interesting. Perfectly parallel verticals can be good if the object (building) is not too close. A little bit of this distortion, sometimes called keystoning, can actually look more natural. A little more keystoning can look sloppy.

A lot of keystoning can look artistic if you pay attention to the angles in your composition.


Deal with unwanted distractions

  • Because subject elements further away are diminished in size, they can easily be overlooked, allowing unwanted elements in to clutter the composition. Examine edges and corners carefully in viewfinder and watch out for unwanted distractions. Look for branches, tripod legs, camera bags or other elements that aren’t a part of the image. This may be easier when chimping after capture

Make use of distortion for compositional impact

  • Choose a very strong foreground interest which will be the main compositional element even if it leads to a secondary background subject. This will dominate the lower frame
  • Get close to main subject to fill frame, exaggerate the size and shrink the background.
  • Shoot from nearer ground level, (while pointing up or down) to exaggerate line, patterns and textures in the foreground
  • Objects near the top and bottom of the frame tend to get stretched. Take advantage: With suitable landscape subjects, point down and lower shooting height to emphasise foreground lines and textures. At the same time, position a distant mountain at the top of the frame where it also gets stretched - this will make an otherwise diminished background element look bigger than expected
  • Use lead in lines from the edges/corners to the centre to pull people in

Minimise distortion

  • Keep camera level to avoid leaning subjects
  • Shift lens/adpator: Use rising front to include tall buildings while keeping verticals level
  • Shift lens/adaptor: Use drop front to include foreground without pointing camera down
  • Avoid placing objects at edges and corners that don’t benefit from stretching and distortion
  • Keep things that need to be undistorted in the centre of the frame

Corner to corner sharpness

When shooting from a low position with a foreground element close to the lens and a background which is equally important, getting sharp focus on both an object close and far away from the lens can be challenging. Possible solutions:

  • Use a small sensor camera for increased depth of field

A larger sensor can take a smaller aperture before hitting the diffraction limits, so the sensor size makes no difference.

  • Focus on the hyperfocal distance
  • Stop down to small aperture
  • Use forward tilt on tilt lens/adaptor to move plane of focus for flat subjects
  • Focus stack: capturing multiple images that focus on different places throughout the frame and blending them together in post-processing

I've been debating whether to take up focus stacking, but more for macro than landscapes.

In your landscape/cityscape compositions, think foreground, middle ground (usually the main subject), background. All three have to be there and have to be good, hence my love of partly cloudy days. A good sky takes care of the background problem, particularly if you don't have any mountains like we don't on the Texas gulf coast. If you don't have any mountains, and there are no clouds in the sky, leave the wide angle at home. There is always something fun to put in the foreground, if you look hard enough.

Take your time, and be ponderous.

Last tip, think of all the things in your picture as elements in an abstract painting and arrange them by moving your camera around. You clearly have a good sense of abstract composition as shown in your telephoto shots.

Thanks for stopping by!

I see that we're almost neighbors (by Texas standards) ...

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