I love taking wide-angle photos of people with my ultra-wide angle zoom lens on my travels (11-16mm Tokina) as I get to closely interact with my subjects. I try to shoot photos where there is some movement or tension. However, when I get back home and view them, I find that very few have a good dynamic composition. The composition is usually very central, static, there is nothing interesting going on at the edges, and the background is sometimes cluttered. Two examples below: night

wildlife retreat

Additionally interesting objects in the background tend to be too small when viewed on the computer screen. I have seen many amazing dynamic photojournalistic photos done with the 16-24mm focal lengths on a full frame, but I cannot achieve that in my photos. What "3 steps" can I take to achieve more dynamic and expressive composition in my wide angle travel shots?

The thread What makes a strong wide-angle composition? does not address specifically address creating dynamic composition in wide angle photographs and therefore does not resolve my problem.

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    Possible duplicate of What makes a strong wide-angle composition?
    – mattdm
    Dec 18 '15 at 15:17
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    A specific example of one of your photos could be interesting.
    – Rafael
    Dec 18 '15 at 15:49
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    Since you shown a specific example, I can give you an example of what I mean :) For the person with the bird, lower your position and you will see that the person will stick out over the horizon, move yourself and lens so that he fills most of the vertical space and overlaps the sky.
    – Itai
    Dec 18 '15 at 17:48
  • @Itai Thanks, that makes a lot of sense for that shot :). So would you say the problem is more with camera positioning (closer and lower) and not necessarily lack of leading lines, strong diagonals or other compositional elements? It's just that the pictures come out so underwhelming compared to what the scene was that I was certain I must be doing something fundamentally wrong. Dec 18 '15 at 18:39
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    You need to more specifically define exactly what you mean by dynamic, as that can be interpreted in more than one way.
    – Michael C
    Dec 18 '15 at 21:55

Three steps: Look, Look, Look :)

Seriously, you seem to clearly know what is wrong when you take the time later. What you need to do is take that time before you take the shot.

When taking a photo, you are obviously looking a subject which pleases you. What most people forget is that everything makes the photo. So, look at the subject, look at the background and move yourself so that they complement each other. In the case of portrait, you can also have your subject move and that makes it easier to get a clutter-free composition. Honestly, keep working with the zoom, it gives you yet another degree of control.


Ok so the hawk picture could have been amazing if you posed your subject a bit more deliberately. Also I would have the sky filling maybe more than 50% of the frame to create maximum drama. Like the previous guy said, composition. Next time you have a shot like this, try to take it in 5 different ways!


You may want to read Ken Rockwell's article on ultra-wide lens to get a few ideas on improving your composition. One of the main advices he gives is: "get closer". I think this applies to your second image: if you just wanted to get the man with a background, you could have used a not-so-wide lens and get it. If you want to use a ultra-wide and get something out of it, then you can and probably should play with the "foreground/background" opposition, and getting closer to your subject is one way to achieve that.

Try playing on all the degrees of freedom you have: get down on your knees if you want strong perspective on the ground (on the second picture, you could have had a low-angle shot on the man, and get the man contrast with the sky as background instead of having this dark-on-dark effect with the grass as background). Point your camera up or down to change position of horizon on your picture, this has a strong effect on perspective with wide-angle lens too.

If you post-process your images, play with lens correction and projection algorithms, some projections make pictures more natural or more "distorted".

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