Framing, photographically speaking, is one of my favorite ways to emphasize the subject I’m photographing. Framing immediately brings attention to your subject. Whether it be a very literal frame (that went through a popular “prop” phase), environmental, or structural framing, framing with light or lack of light, they all work well to bring the viewer’s eye to your subject.
Framing is actually defined by wikipedia as ‘a technique used to bring focus to a subject’. So, like more advanced compositions like leading lines, or golden triangles, using elements to frame your subject can really make an image a bit more interesting and engaging, and make your subject really stand out.
Using architectural elements is probably the most obvious way to frame a subject. Using doorways, window frames, archways, framed mirrors. I’m just thinking elements that are permanent to the environment in which you place your subject. I am a hobbyist, so I take many, many, many pictures of my kids. And I would say that the majority of pictures I take are in or near my home. I could easily snap away at them doing one activity or another, but framing them using the architecture of our home brings a little more interest to the image. It also gives you a fly on the wall kind of feel, like you are peeking in on an activity (which likely I am, because I want to capture them being their genuine selves).
While there are definitely opportunities to use architectural elements outdoors, don’t forget about using your environment to frame your subject. Trees often have a way of wrapping over a subject and framing the subject if placed just right. Photographing through grasses, flowers, or bushes can often bring more attention to your subject by creating a blurred foreground. The eye tends to go toward the in focus areas of the images first, while the added dimension adds depth to the photo to make it more interesting.
Shapes or other Elements that Enclose the Subject:
In this one I framed the shadow so that it would be accentuated as a secondary subject.
You can even think of framing as something that closes off part of the frame. If part of your frame is covered, the viewer’s eye will go toward the more open space, which hopefully is where your subject will be placed. Look for shapes in play areas. There are tons of opportunities on playgrounds.
Here I used Bray’s body to cut into the frame, making his sweet hands and caterpillar the center of attention.
Beware that framing can also give the feeling of intruding on a moment. In this image, it gives the feeling that my little girl is being stalked. Which she is, by ME! But keep in mind the feeling you want your viewer to feel when looking at your images. This one in particular makes me feel uncomfortable, like I’m seeing something that I shouldn’t, that she is unaware and vulnerable. Not exactly the feeling I was trying to portray in this image.
Just about any opening or shape you can think of can be used to frame your subject. If it forms a defined area, use it to frame your subject.
Here, the opening of a birds nest frames the baby birds.
In this one, my son’s arms frame his face. He had just lost his second tooth, and of course we had to document the milestone!
Framing using light/shadow:
Using the available light or lack of to frame your subject is also effective. It is a more subtle approach to framing, in my opinion, but it is a beautiful way to highlight not only your subject, but gorgeous light.
Here, the light used makes a shape on the wall that Bray fills.
The light here, makes a great shape for Sanford to snooze in.
The same goes for framing with shadows or darkness.
If you want to get fancy, you can use more than one element at a time. The bed is framed by the tree. Delia is both framed in the headboard and the light from the iPad.
I hope this article has given you a few new ideas when approaching composition. Framing is a fun and easy way to bring a little something extra to your storytelling. Thanks for reading!