A Top Tip for Improving Your Photographic Compositions — The Big Picture

Don’t forget to “go wide” with your landscape photos to improve your images.

“Going wide” does not necessarily mean using a wide-angle lens but rather to include the environment around the main subject which can really give your photographic compositions the WOW factor. The area around the main attraction — the setting of a particular scene — can be as important an element in your image as the main subject.

beautiful church on an island in lake with mountains and reflection

This is a great example of going wide. The surrounding mountains, the dramatic sky, and the reflections contribute to the success of this composition. Lake Bled, Slovenia.

The “Hero” or “Star” and the “Supporting Cast”

The iconic scenes we visit on our Photography Travel Tours often feature what we like to call the main “hero/star.” In these images of the Chapel of St. Primož in NE Slovenia, the chapel is the main attraction and I chose to photograph this scene wide. Expansive compositions can often tell more of a story (or even a different story) and make an image a lot more impactful. It’s up to us to appreciate and be aware of the supporting cast that makes our hero special.

small chapel on ridge with mountains in background at sunset

Zooming out with the 24-105 mm lens to include more of the surroundings. The Chapel of St. Primož, Jamnik, Slovenia.

My lens of choice for this composition was the Sony 24-105. This lens allows me to capture the church and the environment surrounding it. It is not the church alone that makes this a successful and impactful image. I most likely would not have photographed this church if I had come across it (like many similar ones) in the valley. However, the lonesome chapel on this high ridge with the Kamnik Alps in the background is breathtaking. I also photographed this scene a little tighter, with my Sony 100-400 lens, and I like the results, especially when the prominent peak in the background is visible. In both cases, the viewer gets a sense of how special and surprising it is to discover this little gem of a chapel high up in the Alps.  

Small chapel illuminated at night with mountains in the background. St. Primoz, Slovenia.

In this composition, the chapel, our “hero” is beautifully supported by the mountain in the background that mimics the shape of the steeple.

Tight or Wide? I’d say Both — Always work the scene!

tuscan farmhouse on hill in valley with fog at sunrise

The gorgeous and very famous Il Belvedere farmhouse is a perfect example of including the surroundings for more impact. Val d’Orcia, Tuscany, Italy.

chapel framed by two cypress tree and farmhouse on ridge surrounded by rising fog

The Chapel of Vitaleta in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany. I composed this scene both tight and wide and I like both compositions.

We frequently see our photo tour clients honing in on the main subject in their compositions and leaving out the surrounding environment. I sometimes compose the same way. But I also encourage everybody to zoom out to include the surroundings. Ask yourself what is unique about a scene and what kind of supporting cast the “hero” needs to really stand out.

tiny hamlet with church on top of mountain with mountains all around

The surrounding mountain peaks add a wonderful sense of space to this scene on top of Monte Lussari in NE Italy.

Colorful village perched on cliffs above blue sea

Going wide and including lots of sky and water is my favorite composition for photographing the village of Manarola in the Cinque Terre, Italy

The image above shows how precarious this colorful fishing village perches against the steep cliffs on the Ligurian Coast. Looking at this image, one can’t help but ask how on earth anybody was able to ever build all this. The cropped version below is less desirable in my opinion as it shows less of the wind-swept exposure that makes this town so unique.

View of the colorful fishing town of Manarola in the Cinque Terre at the Ligurian Coast in Italy

Photography means Experimentation

The takeaway here is, again, to always work the scene. Use different focal lengths, but don’t forget to go wide and include the surroundings that are often just as important as the main subject. In fact, you’ll often find more than one “hero” in a scene.  A beautiful tree, the surrounding meadow, and a dramatic sky can all be equally important and create drama through synergy.

Path leading up hill through wheat field to lone tree, Tuscany, Italy

“The Tree” in Tuscany, Italy

Of course, considering the Big Picture as a top tip to improve your photographic compositions is just one suggestion of many and not to be taken as an ironclad rule. We don’t like strict rules in photography and we are often surprised when we try different approaches when it comes to composition.

Experiment and see what feels good!

And if you’d like to “chase” Heros with us during one of our exciting Photo Tours in 2024, see which offer speaks to you. We’d love to have you!

church in lush valley with dramatic mountains in background

It is so important, a real no-brainer, to include the mountains in this composition of  Santa Magdalena in the Val d’ Funes, South Tyrol, Italy.