Framing in photography might not be what you think it is. When you hear the term framing, you most likely think of the typical wooden frames in which you mount your photos before you hang them on the wall. In this article framing is not the solid frames but how you can use framing techniques to compose better photos. It is the framing you do in your viewfinder or LCD screen.
Composition is about creating pleasing photos that draw the viewer's attention into the photos and further move the viewer's eyes around to the main subject. There are a lot of composition rules, and most of them come from the great painters back in history. Despite how important it is, a lot of beginner photographers don’t know or pay composition enough attention when they photograph.
Why is composition so important in photography?
Composition techniques work well because our brain of some reason is programmed to react a certain way to different stimulus. As an example, bright areas or white spots in photos is where the eyes move to first. If this spot is not the main interest point in your photo it will have a disturbing effect and distract the viewer.
If you want to attract the viewer's attention, you can either brighten the main subject or darken the surrounding areas that are not important in the photograph. This is where frames come to play.
Furthermore, framing in photography composition is important as it creates depth in a photo and makes it more interesting. Last but not least framing as a composition technique in photography will help to put the main subject into a context.
Techniques for framing in photography composition
You can use different physical elements as frames. There is always something you can use as a framing element even if it’s not obvious at first. Being aware of the importance of framing in photography composition and taking the time to look around you before you push the shutter is very important. As you practice, you will get better at recognizing suitable frames. Physical elements as frames can be divided into architectural or natural frames.
Architectural framing elements
Arches are a great example of how you can use man-made structures as framing in photography. When you compose your shot, it is important you spend some time to look thoroughly through the viewfinder. Because now you have two frames to consider. You want to make sure nothing disturbing is included in the frame (the arch). And you want to make sure your main subject is well positioned within the frame (the arch). Moving your camera slightly up/down or left/right can make a big difference.
Other man-made elements
Other objects you can use for framing are doorways, fences, bridges, windows, mirrors and more. It is all about being creative and look around you when you’re at a scene. What might not look as an obvious framing element can be after a closer look. Just give it a try.
Natural framing elements
Trees and tree branches
In landscape photography, the most obvious and common framing elements are trees and tree branches. While arches often frame all four sides of the main subject, trees not necessarily need to frame the subject on all sides. Tree branches can frame only the top of the composition.
If you have a clear blue sky with no clouds or an overcast sky you can use tree branches to cover some of this boring sky. A bright sky tends to draw the attention in a photograph. In landscape photography, a too bright sky is a common problem. You can improve the sky when editing your photos, but why not do it in camera by masking parts of the boring sky away with a “frame.”
Stones and rocks
Stones and rocks are great framing elements in photography. The challenge can often be to sort out and avoid introducing clutter in your composition. Too many rocks included in the framing, and you lose the effect.
Small water ponds isolated can act as a frame. The water is bright and draws attention. Placing a subject within the water can result in a perfect framing effect.
Other natural elements you can use for framing in photography
Tall grass and flowers can be great elements to use as framing. Because these are smaller, they work best for framing the foreground and lower parts of the photo.
None physical framing elements
Shadows and light
Using shadows and light as framing in photography composition might not be obvious for everyone. Our eyes are attracted to the brightest parts in your photo. If you frame and position your main subjects in the brightest parts, it will draw the viewers eyes there.
Texture and patterns as framing elements
Textures draw the viewers interest but because of the simple form of textures the eyes tend to lose interest quickly. You can use this as a framing technique. By surrounding the main subject with texture, the eyes are automatically drawn to the subject.
Focus and sharpness
The eyes will first recognize objects that appear sharp in a photo before they move to objects that are not sharp or out of focus. You can create frames by using Depth of Field or simply by making sure less important parts of a photo are not in perfect focus.
Negative space is the areas that surround your subject. Negative space helps your subject to stand out in the composition. Negative space can be space with basically nothing of interest in it. Even a white or blank space have visual weight in a photograph and will balance the composition.
It can seem strange for beginner to leave a lot or empty space in a photo. You have probably heard the problem with beginners is they are not going close enough to the subject. That’s right, but as long the elements around the main subject are not disturbing or drawing attention, it can have a nice overall effect to the composition.
The opposite of using negative space as framing in photography is to use a tight crop. A tight crop makes it clear what the main subject is. The framing in such a photo is basically the edges of the frame. The advantage is you remove anything disturbing around your subject.
Such a composition leave the viewer to interpret the whole context of the photo. Using a telephoto lens is one method to crop tighter and to isolate the main subject.
Post processing vignette is a common technique to draw the viewers eyes to the main subject in a photo. By darkening the sides slightly, the eyes are drawn to the brighter parts.
Vignettes are often mistakenly overdone making them a clearly visible dark frame around the edges of a photo. Vignettes done correctly should have a subtle effect you hardly recognize. Too strong and the vignette will have an opposite effect - you draw the viewers eyes to the overly dark edges instead.
There are a lot of different ways to create framing in photography. Framing is all about drawing the viewer to the main subject. The frame in the frame does not need to be a four sided frame. A frame can cover a small part of the composition and work well. It is important the frame does what it’s supposed to do - emphasizing the main subject.
Frames used the wrong way can be disturbing and have the opposite effect. Another way to use frames in composition is to hide parts of a photo you don’t want to emphasize. Framing in photography is one powerful tool among other composition techniques you definitely should pay attention to and learn how to use.
Do you have any additional tips on how to use framing as a composition technique? Leave a comment below.