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

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DMillier Forum Pro • Posts: 21,364
Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes.  I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

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mike earussi Veteran Member • Posts: 8,306
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?
3

It's just how you see. I'm not very good either but I use Lea's photos as inspiration.  The key seems to be to always include a lot of foreground in the shot.

SigmaChrome Forum Pro • Posts: 11,602
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

DMillier wrote:

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes. I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

I have the same problem, Dave.

I agree, ultra wide angle lenses are really hard to compose with and I think it's because they overwhelm you when you're composing in the viewfinder. You simply can't easily see the world in wide angle. It's much easier to isolate smaller segments of a scene. I think this has a lot to do with how our eyes work. We can only focus on a tiny area of the world at a time.

For me the answer is to divide the scene up into segments whilst also keeping enough interest in the foreground -- but not too much; that's the part I seem to have trouble with. Sometimes it takes me a long time to do this, so I try to work out my compositions hours or sometimes a day before I take the shot. Even then it doesn't always work. Maybe that's just me.

There are plenty of ultra wide shooters who get the compsition wrong but somehow still manage to create a spectacular photo by wowing the viewer with lots of colour and drama. I'm sure you've seen plenty of shots like this on 1x.

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OP DMillier Forum Pro • Posts: 21,364
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?
1

SigmaChrome wrote:

DMillier wrote:

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes. I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

I have the same problem, Dave.

I agree, ultra wide angle lenses are really hard to compose with and I think it's because they overwhelm you when you're composing in the viewfinder. You simply can't easily see the world in wide angle. It's much easier to isolate smaller segments of a scene. I think this has a lot to do with how our eyes work. We can only focus on a tiny area of the world at a time.

For me the answer is to divide the scene up into segments whilst also keeping enough interest in the foreground -- but not too much; that's the part I seem to have trouble with. Sometimes it takes me a long time to do this, so I try to work out my compositions hours or sometimes a day before I take the shot. Even then it doesn't always work. Maybe that's just me.

There are plenty of ultra wide shooters who get the compsition wrong but somehow still manage to create a spectacular photo by wowing the viewer with lots of colour and drama. I'm sure you've seen plenty of shots like this on 1x.

I think one of my issues is that I like simple compositions, tightly framed, using the frame edges as part of the composition. Wide angles tend to introduce unexpected, unwanted elements at the edges. There is also the issue of leaning elements and stretched elements that I don't like.  And it makes everything very small, so only things close to the camera have substance.

Yet.... other people make beautiful images with them! In some cases you don't even really realise they are wide angle shots, with natural unforced composition.

I can't seem to do it

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Dark slide Contributing Member • Posts: 664
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

It reads like you have a mental block, you could do it before re composition but you can't now.

Try finding a scene that you like, compositionally, then walk toward it until it fills the frame. Then look back and check how far you had to walk. For landscape issues you will need, if your wide-angle is not doing it for you, a 24-105mm as made by....who is it? Sigma!

The converging verticals etc can be addressed in Photoshop, very easy.

xpatUSA
xpatUSA Forum Pro • Posts: 15,849
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

DMillier wrote:

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes. I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

These seem relevant, Dave:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/perspective-distortion-photographic-composition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective_distortion_(photography)

This one has a sting in the tail (pano vs. wide:

https://fstoppers.com/architecture/how-lens-compression-and-perspective-distortion-work-251737

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Ted

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OP DMillier Forum Pro • Posts: 21,364
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

xpatUSA wrote:

DMillier wrote:

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes. I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

These seem relevant, Dave:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/perspective-distortion-photographic-composition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective_distortion_(photography)

This one has a sting in the tail (pano vs. wide:

https://fstoppers.com/architecture/how-lens-compression-and-perspective-distortion-work-251737

I find it odd that this is called perspective "distortion". My definition of distortion would be that it is an error that makes the image an inaccurate representation of the subject. But these and other articles make it clear, that when you get very close to something, this is exactly what you see. There is no distortion here, it should be called "Perspective accuracy"!

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FDecker Senior Member • Posts: 1,884
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

DMillier wrote:

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes. I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

Let me start saying that looking at your pictures, it doesn‘t seem that you have problems with wide angles.

But I agree, wide angle is not easy. I think the main problem is that you have an eye on the whole frame at once. This is not what you are doing in reality. When being in front of a large scene, you start to look around. The feeling may be that one sees the whole scene at once but this is not true. The eyes scan the scene and put it together in a continuous integration in one‘s brain. But if compressed by a wide angle lens, the whole scene can be looked at in the resulting image as a whole. And now, any distraction or fault in composition is obvious. With normal lenses or tele lenses, there is a focus on a restricted part of a scene and that seems to be easier to manage for our brain when looking through the viewfinder.

The old large format cameras made this easier. They there always on a tripod and one did look at a pretty large matte screen so that one could easily look around, focus on individual aspects and took a lot of time to get everything right. Not so easy to do with a small viewfinder.

xpatUSA
xpatUSA Forum Pro • Posts: 15,849
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

DMillier wrote:

xpatUSA wrote:

DMillier wrote:

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes. I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

These seem relevant, Dave:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/perspective-distortion-photographic-composition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective_distortion_(photography)

This one has a sting in the tail (pano vs. wide:

https://fstoppers.com/architecture/how-lens-compression-and-perspective-distortion-work-251737

I find it odd that this is called perspective "distortion".

Yes, that is why I was very careful not use the phrase myself.

Maybe compression is more of factor in your case ...

... I have some big trees behind my well-house. From almost any distance, they look about the same size relative to the well-house. But if I were to frame the construction itself equally at say 18, 24, 50, 100, 200mm the apparent size difference in the image would be a lot, as we all should know ... and perhaps only one of those shots would look "right".

My definition of distortion would be that it is an error that makes the image an inaccurate representation of the subject. But these and other articles make it clear, that when you get very close to something, this is exactly what you see. There is no distortion here, it should be called "Perspective accuracy"!

+1, but did the links help in the context of composition?

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Ted

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Scottelly
Scottelly Forum Pro • Posts: 14,007
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

I love super-wides, but I don't find myself shooting with mine very often. I think it's just a matter of most scenes looking better at a more narrow angle of view. Another thing might be that you aren't standing in the right place. Ansel Adams said one of the keys to success in photography is knowing where to stand, right? I find that making even small changes in the height of the camera/lens above the ground can make a significant difference too, so it's not just left and right as well as getting closer or farther from the subject, but choosing the right height from the ground can make a big difference.

You probably find that you don't spend much time behind wide-angle lenses. That's something you need to overcome. I think you'll get into it more, if you decide to shoot with your widest lenses more. Maybe go out shooting with nothing but your wide lens at least one day each week - Mondays? Saturdays? It seems to me that each lens requires a certain mindset. If you're used to shooting with a 50mm lens, then shooting with a 135mm lens might feel weird and make it difficult to get good compositions, or switching from a 50mm to a 28mm might be difficult, because there is so little isolation of subject with a 28mm lens. I think the same applies to stepping out to an even wider lens. Take the DP0 Quattro, for example. I bet it takes most people quite a while to figure out good compositions with that camera, but when they do, they are able to capture some really nice, and very pleasing compositions, taking advantage of dramatic skies and landscapes, or maybe being able to show the full spendor of beautiful interiors in cathedrals or luxury homes.

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atom14
atom14 Senior Member • Posts: 2,347
--And here I was...

...hankering for a pic or two to see what you mean.

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Nope, I won't speculate as to why, even though your lament found some resonance in my own experience.

atom14.

saltydogstudios Senior Member • Posts: 1,372
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?
1

mike earussi wrote:

It's just how you see. I'm not very good either but I use Lea's photos as inspiration. The key seems to be to always include a lot of foreground in the shot.

Yeah, this.

It's harder to create layers - foreground, midground, background with a wider lens. With a longer lens something 5 feet away can be the foreground. With a wider lens... 2 feet away?

Or the backgrounds needs to be really far back for the same effect - mountains.

Longer lenses compress and that compression naturally creates layers.

Wide lenses expand (the opposite of compress) and you need to work harder to create layers.

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Joris1632 Senior Member • Posts: 2,538
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?
4

DMillier wrote:

I used to love wide angle lenses - I thought they produced very dramatic imagery.

Nowadays I shoot almost always with longer focal lengths, even for landscapes. I find that using wide angles almost always results in terrible compositions.

Question is, why? Ultra wide angles are very popular these days, everyone uses them, often with great success. But I can't shoot anything wider than 35mm equivalent without getting poor compositions.

Why do I find wider lenses so hard to compose with? There must be something about the characteristics of wide lenses that is hard to control...

I've long admired your feeling for composition/design - nowt wrong there lad!  So why worry about WA?  I honestly believe in the kinda arty-farty perspective (sic) that if you photograph what you love, you won't go far wrong ..... - try to follow a  trend and "you're doomed, laddie, doomed" in the immortal words of  er, someone.

Seriously, vision trumps technology,  why the self doubt?

Regards,

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Joris1632

ascotinitaly
ascotinitaly Regular Member • Posts: 182
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?
2

Scotttelly-" I think it's just a matter of most scenes looking better at a more narrow angle of view. Another thing might be that you aren't standing in the right place. Ansel Adams said one of the keys to success in photography is knowing where to stand, right? "

Quite right, Scott and Ted- where you stand (in life, in photography) influences the outcome. As a photographer, I prefer primes. As an artist, I prefer zooms. "zooming with your feet" moves the magic where all the layers of the story line up. Nice links, Ted.

Enjoy the weekend

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xpatUSA
xpatUSA Forum Pro • Posts: 15,849
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

ascotinitaly wrote:

Scotttelly-" I think it's just a matter of most scenes looking better at a more narrow angle of view. Another thing might be that you aren't standing in the right place. Ansel Adams said one of the keys to success in photography is knowing where to stand, right? "

Quite right, Scott and Ted- where you stand (in life, in photography) influences the outcome. As a photographer, I prefer primes. As an artist, I prefer zooms. "zooming with your feet" moves the magic where all the layers of the story line up. Nice links, Ted.

Thanks, Scot.

I was looking at this one just now posted by @Tom_V (Lourdes Cathedral)

https://3.img-dpreview.com/files/p/E~forums/63193175/485f1b7f4866411fb619d16fd0c0b605

(Click to see the pic then arrow back)

Imagine choosing all the variables such as focal length, shooting distance, exposure and even planning ahead for the crop (I believe it was cropped). The various elements of the shot are all just right ... I'm impressed.

Enjoy the weekend

Ta. Same 2U.

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Ted

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OP DMillier Forum Pro • Posts: 21,364
Ok. Some photos to illustrate...
2

atom14 wrote:

...hankering for a pic or two to see what you mean.

Here are some examples of compositions that come naturally to me without struggle. I spot this kind of subject quickly and can frame it almost without thought:

These are simple compositions, often reliant on line, curve, colour, pattern. Often then tend to be a "flat", single plane. Framing is usually tight, with a primary subject and few distractions.

However, when I try and shoot with very wide lenses (because perhaps, I want the drama), my usual compositional tricks don't seem to work very well. The result is usually a messy, confused picture with random extra elements I don't want.

I'm a big fan of Scottish landscape photographer Bruce Percy. He clearly uses a lens of something around 24mm equivalent quite often in building his tightly framed, tightly composed landscapes. There is something about his style that I feel ought to map quite well to my preferences, yet when I try it doesn't work out like Bruce's. And I can't figure out why....

Here's some example of Bruce's work that I feel I should be able to emulate but can't:

To my mind, Bruce produces quite minimalist, simple compositions, something I strive to do. And I can control it OK with medium and longer focal lengths but I can't with wide angles:  which means I cannot make images with the back to front depth, like Bruce does.

And I can't work out why...

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OP DMillier Forum Pro • Posts: 21,364
Spent a rainy day researching wide lens characteristics
1

And made a list:

  • Unwanted things outside subject of interest get included at edges causing distraction
  • Only subjects close to the lens render larger - further away items shrink
  • Tend to get a lot of unwanted foreground if not close enough to subject

Distortion

  • Subjects close to lens exaggerated in size compared to mid-ground and background
  • Steep perspective to vanishing points as a result
  • Objects near edges and corners pulled out of shape
  • If camera tilted up or down, verticals lean inwards or outwards

How do people who are good with wide lenses, make use of these for effect/minimise the negatives?

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Scottelly
Scottelly Forum Pro • Posts: 14,007
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?

I just came across this article, and wonder if you'd find it useful:

https://www.capturelandscapes.com/pro-tips-for-better-wide-angle-landscape-photography/

One of my favorite photographers, Albert Dross, shoots a lot of wide-angle stuff, mostly with a 16-35mm lens on a full-frame camera.

https://www.albertdros.com/world-landscapes

One of my favorite focal lengths is 35mm, so I'm seriously considering that 16-35mm GM lens for the Sony A7r IV, if I do indeed end up getting that camera. I think I will, because I love wide-angle stuff, and the 14-24 from my Sigma should work well on it for the wider stuff, and there is a full-frame Voigtlander 10mm f5.6 available for that camera too, which I think would be perfect for shooting interiors, like houses, cathedrals, boats, offices, and caves.

Shot with Canon 5 D with 17-40mm f4 L at 17mm

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xpatUSA
xpatUSA Forum Pro • Posts: 15,849
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?
2

Scottelly wrote:

<>

Shot with Canon 5 D with 17-40mm f4 L at 17mm

I've got one like that, Scott!

(EXIF date is wrong)

Sigma 8-16mm mounted on your very own sd1 mERRIL ...

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Ted

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OP DMillier Forum Pro • Posts: 21,364
Re: Why I am I so bad composing with wide angle lenses?
1

Good tips in that article. Thanks, Scott.

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