On 1x people often say that to complete a story you need to have a third element. Fine, but what can you do when you don't have a human around to pose for you?

How to compose the following scene so that it doesn't look "empty"?

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    Do you not like the picture? When you took the shot, what were you trying to capture? Did you have a focal point in mind? A picture doesn't always need to have a story...
    – forsvarir
    Mar 30 '12 at 12:59
  • @Russell How did you do it? Please tell. Mar 30 '12 at 13:10
  • @forsvarir Please see my comment below. Mar 30 '12 at 13:21
  • You still haven't said if you liked the shot (which I'd say is the most important question). Personally, if the bench wasn't the focus of the shot, I'd have tried to remove it by changing the angle / position, particularly since it seems to fall at the focal point for the shot. If you'd moved out slightly to the right, I think you'd have got a better angle on the trees (although you may have seen more of the stuff (like scaffolding?) behind them and it may not have worked). Was the ground blur a desired part of the shot? Would a smaller apture/closer focus have improved it?
    – forsvarir
    Mar 30 '12 at 13:28
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    The more you tell us about 1x, the more I dislike the community. Mar 30 '12 at 14:47

How to compose the following scene so that it doesn't look "empty"?

If you think the scene looks empty, I don’t think there’s much you can do to recompose the scene to make it look less empty whilst maintaining the original point. If the point was the line of trees, then you could play with the focus point (focusing on a closer tree would have put less emphasis on the bench), but doing much beyond that, in my mind is changing the scene.

If you don’t want it to look empty, change the scene. You could take a tricycle with you. You could take some bird / animal food and scatter it on the floor in front of you to attract some wildlife to the scene (have no idea how practical this is where you are). You could cut down what’s visible in the image, focus on the bench, a smaller number of trees, the poles between the trees... Or, you could embrace the emptiness and make that the focus of the scene. An empty bench by the trees, a discarded book, glove, hat, broken umbrella, newspaper, letter...

You seem to be listening to people on 1x telling you that you need 3 things to tell a story... Great, I’ve heard similar things about 5 and odd numbers in general. But fundamentally if you’re trying to tell a story you need to know what the story is. If you know that, then you’re far more likely to figure out what it is that is missing from the shot. A line of trees can make an attractive picture, but it’s not a story. The rigid restrictions placed on nature so that it can exist in built up areas might be the start of a story... but then you’d be looking for something to emphasise that order, such as more of the straight lines from the block of flats in the distance... or contrast it with the chaotic pile of pipes behind the trees.

If you want to tell a story, the first thing to do is decide what story you want to tell... and it may be that it needs several pictures to tell it... Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with empty as long as it’s there for a reason...

  • that's a very nice answer. You said: "Or, you could embrace the emptiness and make that the focus of the scene. An empty bench by the trees, a discarded book, glove, hat, broken umbrella, newspaper, letter" you mean to capture emptyness I should place some material on the bench to make it look complete? Or I missed your point? Mar 30 '12 at 16:43
  • @AnishaKaul They're some of many things (obviously not all at once)that could be on the bench, blowing about on the floor, or even caught up in a tree... or the bench could be emphasised as being more of a focal point + empty, as Russell's interpretation does, or it could be done by moving more face-on to the bench. It's hard to know what impact that would have without trying it. I'm very much in the suck it and see phase...
    – forsvarir
    Mar 30 '12 at 18:45

You need to know what you are trying to do and (perhaps) why.

Given that scene to play with I'd try all sorts of angles and subsets. Mainly bench, through the hole in the legs, looking down, and up, and overhead tress framed by bench etc.

Given that exact position and subject material - feet may not move -

I may desperately try things like you see here
SCROLL up & down - do not click or you'll leave "roll" mode.

Here's one of them - BUT I'd try to find other views and angles in preference.

enter image description here


You have just mentioned a whole new subject.

"How do I get people to pose for me?". I can get 80%+ of random strangers to pose for me - women are easier to persuade than men - women understand that a man may wish to take their photo for whatever reason. Men wonder why you'd want to. BUT that's a whole new question. Ask it :-).

Many of the people here are strangers. (The two young women hat the sequence starts at had never met me before.

As can be seen, quite a large % in these photos don't know I'm there even when I am right in front of them, but many people will say yes when asked if they are comfortable enough with you. (In many cases here I'm an oldish white guy in Asia and people expect some of us to be camera mad, so some of the barriers are gone, but it works at home too).


@Anisha Kaul - I just came across your "Life cycle" 'story' on 500px.com . It's stunning.

enter image description here

I'd be hard put to say how many "elements" it had. Has it got 3? I don't know, but the story aspect was wonderful. The theme is well enough explored, some might perhaps say over explored, but your photo was marvellous to come upon suddenly and unexpectedly, evocative of a number of aspects of the theme, such that you look for other aspects, find some, and wonder if they were in your mind when you created the image. If I was crafting the image I'd probably have done some things differently, but that's wholly irrelevant. I may have added more burning candles with some suggestion of small flame growing and then shrinking - but odds are that that would just have over complicated it. Things one wonders about - it doesn't matter whether they were intended or not - the fact that they may have been - or may not have been - just adds to the effect:
Flame getting larger as lifespan / force dwindles,
Is the unlit vertical candle telling us something about start of life or awareness or consciousness,
What DOES the match signify - we know its role, but is it the life giver, who wiels it to strike the light . How what when.
Why the jumble of new lives waiting to be erected and lit? Why not an orderly progression? Is there a message?
Is the progression of lit candles several lives or one? If one life, are the waiting unlit candles also part of the same single life? Is this a reincarnation cycle or ...

Did the photographer intend all these "messages" ? - very probably not.
Are there missed messages that were intended? - probably.

Why am I posting this here and not on your question that used this photo as its basis?
You asked about making scenes that don't look empty, that tell stories, that don't need to include people to tell their tale.
One answer: Follow your own lead that you've given here. It's marvellous.

Who am I that my opinion should count, or not? - another of your questions.
Answer: Nobody of any relevance.
I have taken a truly vast number of photos over many years (Aiming for quality does not as of right exclude quantity in its rightful place :-)).
Photography is, by wife assures me, an obsession.
My aim is to take photos that please me, and, that 'please' people who I wish to be pleased with them. "Pleased" rolls together a variable mix of interest / attract / intrigue / stun / mesmerise / inform / entertain / give pleasure to / educate / amuse ... and more.

If you continue with photos like "Life cycle" with its 'story' you can add me to your "people who are pleased" list :-).

  • thanks, actually my main subject was the trees in a row. The bench was there so I just captured it. Mar 30 '12 at 13:20
  • The question on posing may be covered by How do I approach people for a natural look in street photography?, although I don't think we have one about "how do I encourage my friends and family to be subjects of my photography experiments?"
    – mattdm
    Mar 30 '12 at 13:27
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    My question was NOT "how to get people pose for me". I live in India. Cultural difference - can't ask people to pose for me. BTW, if the subject was the trees, should I have focused the tree instead of the bench? Mar 30 '12 at 13:28
  • FWIW, I think the "Seat7" version in Russell's series is pretty successful. @Anisha: possibly. Sharp focus is a powerful element in visual language, as it definitely draws the eye — and sort of by definition, in-focus objects are easy to consider to be the focus of an image.
    – mattdm
    Mar 30 '12 at 13:30
  • @AnishaKaul - Answer added to with comment on "Life cycle". Apr 2 '12 at 11:11

Composition actually varies from person to person. It's not that you can just copy cat their idea into your one. To increase your composition skill I would rather suggest you to spend time watching other people's photo and then come out with something of your own. Just dont copy someone's frame - rule number one!

Now this photo is not attractive for many reasons.

  1. the perspective. you could use a small prop/toy in front the bench and keep that in focus.

  2. no specific subject. which one is your subject? the bench? but all those trees are distracting very much. to make it look more lively I would rather make someone sit/relax/read on that bench and focus on her keeping everything out of focus. To do that, you may need fast lenses which can shoot at f/2.8 or or less

  3. change your angle, you could take the photo from slightly up position. that would remove the distracting and empty blurry road from in front.

  4. experiment with light. in this photo the light is dull and gloomy with and not vibrant. may be you can try taking the shot in other part of the day where you can make use of sunburst, sun rays from the leaf and/or just the tone of the light.

Well there could be many more but in simple, to make photo of empty space more attractive - use people or use props. Always keep some small toys in your pocket because they come handy. And also read about "how to use negative space in photos". The following article could be useful


  • Hasin, and @forsvarir If I use people, there won't be any empty space. I can't get people to pose for me. The subject here was the trees in a line and then the bench. Mar 30 '12 at 13:13

I like the first picture better. I think that the blur is very good. It gives the impression of secretly watching someone that's all alone, and wondering if I should go over there and give them some comfort. Even though the image doesn't have any people in it, to me, the empty bench depicts a person that is alone and without friends. I think that you can build on the impression of emptiness instead of trying to fill it up. I think the construction and scaffolding behind the bench portrays other people who have outcast the invisible person on the bench. I think that when I think about it, I am seeing more and more the empty bench as an empty person.

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