Composing an image when a stranger walks into your frame

I’ll own it, there are times when I become one of those angry photographers and raise my voice to complete strangers.  And sometimes, I try to channel a more positive spirit and figure out how to work around them.  Sunrise and sunset can be a stressful time, the light is fading, you’ve been in position for awhile just waiting for the few seconds that will make your image come alive……and someone walks into your frame….and sits down.  Expecting patience at times like these is a folly, and downright unreasonable.  But when you’re bearing is not as intimidating as you wish it could be, then you either take your chances and yell, walk away and try something else, or try to work around it.  I encountered this situation at the Church of the Good Shepherd in New Zealand.  From the images it looks like an isolated and peaceful place.  It is anything but.  Hundreds of photographers and tourists concentrate in a small area to capture memorable images.

I was set up in front of the church, when this gentleman walked in and sat down to take in the view.  He had every right to be there, so it was up to me to work around him.  Each of these three images have a major, fundamental problem…..he is looking the wrong way.  He is looking toward the outside of the frame, away from the main subject, the church. It would have been better if he was looking in the direction of the church.

1711_MFA_New Zealand_0117-Edit1711_MFA_New Zealand_0116-Edit1711_MFA_New Zealand_0114-Edit

Peter and I went back and forth and could not land on which one works better.  My preference is the first (If I had to choose).  Sometimes, you have to do the best you can with what has been presented.



  1. shaunkellett

    The topic of strangers/people in photographs is quite an interesting one! I’ve heard photo critics actually marking down photos because they’re empty of human life… Sometimes a having someone in a shot makes it feel more alive, but then sometimes someone stands exactly where you don’t want them to… Different circumstances for different photos!

    I agree the top photo is better; there’s a better silhouette to the man, can see his face. Would it be better if he was looking at the church? Maybe yeh. However, I quite like him looking out of the frame, it gives it a sense of scale in my eyes.

    1. Anonymous

      Hi Shaun – you raise some interesting points. I used to wait until people cleared the scene before I made an image, but I find that I get more positive responses to the images I make that have people in them. Maybe in a sense people in an image are a proxxy for the viewer to imagine themselves there too….

  2. Seattle Park Lover

    You have a valid point about looking out of the frame. But in this case, because of where he is positioned in relation to the church, I think it actually works. It creates a bit of mystery about what he’s looking at and he’s not prominent in the photo. For that reason I prefer the third photo, because by shading his eyes he’s more active in his looking. If he’d been doing the same thing positioned more to front of the church then I’d probably think it felt all wrong.

    1. Anonymous

      I like your observation about how introducing action adds more to the frame in terms of energy. Interesting points about the relative size of the man vs. the church (main subject)……I can’t remember what photographer said this – it was a comment about including “little surprises” in the frame for the view to find helps make the viewer a more active part of the experience. Maybe this guy is a “little surprise” – something that makes this image just a bit different from the iconic images.

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