Composition Techniques – Framing, 2

Here are some thoughts on the use of framing as a composition technique. (Click on images to enlarge.)

12mm lens about 8 inches from Darling’s (her name) nose
1. Framing can provide several benefits including-

  • Provide a sense of time and place. In the examples of part 1, we immediately know that it’s spring. This, in turn, may trigger viewer emotions and memories of spring in another time and place.
  • Photographs are 2-dimensional. As photographers one of our biggest challenges is to add depth to our images. A frame in the foreground is an immediate sign to the viewer’s brain that the scene, in reality, has depth.
  • Add a foreground element of interest.
  • Focus the viewer’s eye on the subject

2.The frame can be anything

  • Natural
  • Placed on diagonal for dynamic effect
  • Waited for nearly an hour for this moon alignment
  • Blade overlapping heron’s leg is not good


  • Man made
  • A frame within a frame within…


  • Human
  • Is there any doubt as to the subject; the rest is framing and context
  • Embellishment on an otherwise  typical landscape image


  • Try a lighted subject surrounded by dark toned shapes for a dramatic effect
  • Are those needles overlapping the moon a problem? See “separation” further on in this section.


  • Use your imagination; there are lots of frames out there if you look for & see them
  • Note the clear separation, no overlap between all of the (4) major elements. This is why we use tripods – composition and not camera shake.
  • A obvious frame except to the hordes of tourists (I waited for) clustered around the statue taking snapshots.
  • The pine branches are more for depth than framing
  • Look around, frames pop up in the most unusual places

3. You can use a frame

  • That’s a natural complement to the subject and overall scene, or
  • What could be more natural than this?
  • Two months after I took and posted this image, I saw a nearly identical version in the Washington Post.


  • One that’s a stark contrast of a man-made object framing a scene of pure nature, or vice versa.
  • Mary’s Rock tunnel, Skyline Drive

4. Look for a frame whose outline/contour roughly approximates the shape of the object being framed for a pleasing affect.

5. Separation – this applies to composition in general. Be sure to maintain separation between the frame and important elements of the scene. In particular, do not have the framing element overlap the main subject – a slight overlap might come across as a careless mistake. Go back & look at the moon silhouetted by pines – with a few overlapping pine needles. Does that example suggest that there are exceptions to every rule or does it prove the rule?

6. The frame can be in or out of focus. The shoot-through technique we considered in the craftsmanship section on focus would be an example of an out of focus frame. Recall, however, the out of focus foreground elements can be tricky if not done well as the human vision system does not “accept” them readily. The good news here is that the eye is drawn most naturally to the area of greatest contrast – in the case of an out-of-focus frame, it’s drawn quickly (albeit possibly troubled) to the subject. When the frame and subject are both in focus there’s the risk of the viewer wondering which is the subject. You pays your money & takes your chances.

Stopped down wide angle for greater depth of field

Wide open telephoto shoved into the blossoms for shallow DOF
7. Be Bold. As I mentioned previously, half-hearted attempts at creativity often will be viewed as a mistake. For example, don’t use a frame consisting of a few leaves peeking in from the edge of your image. That will look like an error – one where you failed to examine the edges of your viewfinder for potential infringements and distractions. Try reflections as in the next examples.

My first image with a then new 12mm lens. Made from just a few inches from the mirror. Needed a subject that would take advantage of “wide” and also demonstrate the large depth of field possible with wide angle lenses.

Windows – either looking through or with reflections – are good sources of frames (pun?)
8. Usually, framing is done best with a wide(r) angle lens – but not always. These two images demonstrate perspective, an important element of composition which we’ll address in detail later. For now, look at the two images closely.  The top image was made with a wide angle (16mm) and the bottom with a telephoto (135mm). The line of sight was identical for each, I just moved farther from the gazebo for the bottom image (about twice the distance as compared to the upper image).  In this case the cherry tree framing is probably more effective with the telephoto – but it’s a function of the framing (a less than stellar choice which was made to illustrate this point). Notice how the telephoto compresses distances from front to rear –  with the telephoto the foreground trees appear to be almost in line with one another. It also reduces the angle of view side to side – note that the pond and the red trees beyond the pond in the wide angle image are completely off the left side of the frame in the telephoto. This is one effect of zooming with a lens as opposed to zooming with your feet. Try this yourself!

9. The compositional framing device, unlike traditional picture mats & frames, does not have to completely surround the scene/subject. Any single side/top/bottom or combination can be used effectively. Look through all of the previous images for examples of just about every combination.
Assignment – Try to make images that demonstrate each of the above points. This will require a dozen or more separate images and probably more than a single outing. When you’re done put them in a personal portfolio of images that demonstrate framing. We’ll do this throughout the composition lesson for each technique. If you’d like to post this portfolio when it’s complete, post them here using the slide show feature (not as a series of individual images).
Here’s a different option for displaying a slide show within a blog (yesterday’s used’s; this one is a 3rd party supported by wordpress). It has the advantage of full screen viewing – click on View All Images and in the new window that opens, click on Full Screen to the right of the slide show. Enjoy.
[slideshow id=2522015791360108514&w=426&h=320]

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