I am posting this photo as example but I suggest the answerers to remain generalized.

I took this photo yesterday. Intension was to show the bonding between the father and the daughter as well as the scenic beauty of the location.

enter image description here

Now, I find that my attention does not remain focused on the people here, it gets repeatedly diverted to the trees on the left corner, flowers and green shrub in the front, and the overall greenery in the background.

I could have simply cropped off those distractions but then the picture will only contain the people and that won't be interesting to me. The other so called distractions tell me that they are in a garden or a forest, and they also prevent the subject from staying in the center.

I don't know if I am thinking too much.

If I had the choice to blur out the background then wouldn't that have resulted in blurring the context?

So, I'd like to know with different example photos how to decide whether there is too much context or too little context in a scene?

  • crop the image to remove the 2 trees on the left side of the image to just keep the people; it will recenter the focus to them.
    – Max
    Jul 23, 2015 at 20:13

5 Answers 5


I think you are pushing yourself too much to have "context" on your photos. I have read your other posts and tried to comment on them too, but I will focus on this image.

The crop

It is obvious that you already made a "crop", because the image does not have the 3x2 proportion. So you already made 2 framing decisions, first when taking the shot, and again when you did the crop.

But a basic rule of composition is the rule of thirds. This is not carved in stone but helps a lot to feel the spaces. In my humble opinion your image lacks this visual equilibrium.

(I adjusted the levels and saturation of the image, I think it was oversaturated)

enter image description here

There is a context, yes, a pretty garden, but I am not sure there is a real situation (the father pointing at something).

You were trying to frame something that you could not frame (probably was a little more to the left, but we the viewers will never know), and you did not pay attention to the composition, the spaces.

Another point of attention

If there was actually something that you could frame then the story is different:

enter image description here

Now there is a reason to make that "forced" framing. The father and kid have a reason for not being as main subject, but the situation is.

Use a composition to tell a story

It is clear that you did not have a rabbit there. So don't force the framing.

It is different to tell a story than to tell the story. You are not making a documentary (probably yes, but that is not the point)

They are probably looking at the flowers, but they don't have that much weight on the story, they are behind a fence, trying not to disturb something... (that is why I think "oh there could be something else that is not in the frame)

Here is an example of how this rule of thirds would help you in the original framing. It is not important what they are looking at, or where they are, the important thing is that they are there.

enter image description here

The problem (IMO) was not "Is it too much context?" but a composition one.

  • Thankful to you. Though late. Noted your points. Apr 8, 2017 at 17:21

The problem I see with the composition is not that it suffers from too much context. Rather, it is the lack of arranging that context to draw the viewer's attention towards the main subjects. As framed the compositional elements draw the viewer's eyes away from the subjects. They are also too close to the right edge of the frame. The strong leading lines in the photo (both fence rails and the bright tree trunk) point away from the subjects and towards the flowers at lower left. The more subtle line created by the brighter green color also leads the eye to the flowers.

If you can arrange the scene in your viewfinder so that the leading lines point to the subjects it would help draw the viewer's gaze there. If you used a wider aperture to limit the depth of field and limit the sharpest focus to the subjects it would help draw the viewer's gaze there. If you changed the framing so that the subjects are not all the way on the edge of the frame it would help make the subjects stronger.

  • I'm not sure I agree with you on the eye tracking here. For me, at least, the arc of the fence (along with foreground sharpness) guides my eye quickly into the frame, to the human subjects — first the father, and then from his gaze to the daughter, and from hers to the finger, which then leads offscreen — it'd be more fortuitous if his pointing aligned directly with the flowers, if that's the intended focus of attention... or maybe there's something else (a cute animal?) out of frame?
    – mattdm
    Jun 29, 2015 at 13:10
  • And because of this and because of the direction they're facing, the positioning of the subjects against the edge of the frame doesn't bother me.
    – mattdm
    Jun 29, 2015 at 13:11

The building blocks of an image can be usually divided into these three categories:

  • Main. This is what your picture is about. In this case, the two people.
  • Supportive. These elements help build the atmosphere, narrative, context. In this photograph it would be the flowers and the fence, for example.
  • Distracting or confusing. These are elements that are prominent in the image, but do not have any meaningful relation to the main element(s)

Having said that, you can put as much context to your images as you need for your intended message to make sense, as long as you are able to keep the distracting elements on a leash.

In your particular picture, your composition balances the two people with prominent tree trunks in the top left. That makes the user feel, that the tree trunks are somehow important. This is probably just my individual thing, but they remind me some sort of military rockets or rifle shells. This is exactly what qualifies it as an distracting or confusing element in my view.

I don't think there is too much context in your image, but I would try to decrease prominence of the trees by different cropping and/or burning.


To me the purpose of context is to help tell a story. Your composition does that but a stronger story in my opinion would have been to frame it so you can see what he is pointing at and where she is looking. If you were telling the story of that scene verbally, what details would you include and exclude? That's the right amount of context.


I think your main problem here is that we don't see a father and child bonding happily, we see a man instructing (or even admonishing) a rather bewildered little girl. As the main subject is unsympathetic, we look elsewhere.

Purely as a composition, ignore the Rule Of Thirds at your peril! We could do this. But the man is still drawing our attention out of the frame, pointing at nothing. Take a better shot.

(Are you aiming for a commission from 'The Watchtower'? They like parental authority figures and submissive children in unfeasibly picturesque rural settings.)

enter image description here


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