In the below photograph of mine the father and the child were watching the wall lizard in the room.

It wasn't practical for me to include the lizard since it was far away on the roof. Moreover the room didn't have much area to move about, and I had the 50mm prime lens.

Even if I had the ultra wide I don't think I could have got the tiny lizard without including all the other background distractions.

How to frame the scene where including the actual context isn't that practical?

How to "improve the composition" when the context isn't there. That means that am I supposed to leave some space from any side or place the subject in a particular corner do anything else or leave some space for headroom?

enter image description here

  • 1
    What is it that you don't like about the current composition?
    – Caleb
    Jun 2, 2015 at 18:22
  • @Caleb It is too tight. I can leave some room, but from which direction and how, such that the missing lizard doesn't become too obvious. Jun 4, 2015 at 7:33

5 Answers 5


Sometimes, you just can't get this shot. That might be the case, here. You don't have the right lens, or the right positioning, and what you want to make happen, can't. In your case, 50mm lens and a small room — not much to be done.

I have three ideas, though

First, and risky, you could move so that you're actually in the line of sight between the subjects and the lizard. Then, you have a "lizard's point of view" image. I don't know, though, if the cherubic expression you captured would be the same. And I say risky because blocking the interesting view is likely to get upset subjects, especially when they're too young to be explained to and pose intentionally.

Second, you could talk to the older subject and perhaps have him look at the child. Possibly this would even align so that it seems like the child is looking adorably at the father and not a lizard at all. Or, if not, at least there would be some visual weight directed into the frame. Could work — but, is really a different photograph — in other words, just another way of saying you couldn't get the shot you imagined.

So, third, I'm thinking outside of the box. Literally! Take a second picture of the lizard in its place, and then print the two as a pair — a diptych — displayed with the photo of the lizard just above and to the left. Like this:

lizard image from Simon Breese, CC-BY-SA

Hmmm. Well, maybe not at that scale. I just took a random Creative Commons image. But that's the idea — you couldn't get it all in a single frame, but the overall composition doesn't need to be limited to a single frame. Looking at this mockup, the lizard is clearly too large — might work better if it were smaller with the frame (as taken with your 50mm lens without moving, for example), or maybe even with a smaller frame.

Of course, you don't have to put the actual lizard there. You could put the mother smiling down benevolently, or just another photograph you'd like to draw attention to. (In that case, that frame could be even larger, with these two serving sort of like Raphael's cherubs.

  • Thanks for the response. Please add some details regarding the following point: Assuming I cannot move much from where I was in this scene then am I supposed to leave some space from any side or place the subject in a particular corner or leave space for headroom or is it in current state tightly framed?? Apr 28, 2015 at 6:02
  • @TheIndependentAquarius Give me some time to think about that. :)
    – mattdm
    Apr 29, 2015 at 1:59

I hate to state the obvious: if you cannot include it, don't include it. Don't force it, here's why:

You compose for a subject. What is the subject? Father and child looking at a lizard.

As long as the lizard was included in the frame, that'd be true. But it's not. The lizard isn't part of the subject. I think the subject of your image is a father interacting with his child. The interaction is to look at something that is not seen in the frame. It's not of particular interest what they are looking at, but that they are looking at something.

Let me compare this to other images.

enter image description here

[Image from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:20110825_OH_H1013410_0091.JPG_-Flickr-_NZ_Defence_Force.jpg ]

Is the destination of the cyclist included in the image? No. He might be miles away from the finish line, so it's naturally not included in this image. But not even the next part of the track is included. (Does it go further downhill? Is there a ramp maybe?)

I think most people would agree that it is ok when the destination of a cyclist is not included in an image. It's just an image of a cyclist cycling. But cycling clearly is a way of movement and as such it definitely has a destination.

On the other hand, some context isn't even visual. If you imagine an image of two people next to each other, is it clear if they are lovers or not? (Assuming obvious actions like kissing are not being portrayed)

Maybe they are just family members happy to see each other again, close friends, fans of the same football team that just scored...

You cannot tell what relationship they have to each other.

In conclusion I say that if for some reason something is not included in your image, you should not bother too much about it. People will pay more attention to what's in the frame. And you should do the same.

Sorry for the circular logic, but you kind of asked for it. I think your doubts stem from thinking "oh I really want this lizard to be in the image" yet you made it clear that it will not be part of the subject. The thought lingers on and does not allow you to enjoy a nice candid photograph of father and child.

  • 1
    That being said, it might be fun to also take a picture of the lizard, and arrange both pictures on a wall to convey context. :D Apr 27, 2015 at 4:58
  • -1 because you haven't answered the question. I'll repeat the question: Here, I am NOT asking about how to include the lizard, I already know that that is not practical. So, the question is how to "improve the composition" when the context isn't there. That means that am I supposed to leave some space from any side or place the subject in a particular corner do anything else or headroom? – Apr 27, 2015 at 6:27

I think above all else you have a cropping problem. Your crop doesn't follow the "rule of thirds," so it is already suffering from a sort of cramped feeling, like you've intentionally cut it out of context. Of course the reality is that you were cramped, but if you could choose your composition here is an example of a better crop:

Better crop using rule of thirds

In this crop the child's outside eye is on a third corner, and the father's outside eye is on the opposing third. The image is more balanced and it leaves more room for context – explicit or implicit.

(If you want the explicit context of the wall lizards now you have a canvas above them where you could try to show a few hanging about, and that would suggest to the viewer that the subjects are also looking at one.)

  • 1
    I have to agree with this. The composition would definitely look better using the rule of thirds. Sometimes you just have to go with what feels right and the example given here feels more right than the original crop.
    – VenomRush
    Jun 4, 2015 at 9:26

I guess if you had not cropped too tight, it would have added to the composition. In other words, adding a lead room would have been good. Adding a lead room is a one of oldest and most practised composition techniques by great masters in photography.



I think it's okay to leave part of the image to the viewer imagination. So here you both are looking into something but I don't know what this thing is which is okay in photography cause I'll be wondering what are you looking at. Everytime you show this photo to anyone s/he will ask you what are you looking at? You engaged him or her in a conversation about the photo and you made him interested. I see it well composed, there's no much in the photo except your and your daughter looking at something and my eyes go rightaway to you and her. You could try to blur the background more maybe cause the texture of the curtain is somehow strong.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.