Rules of Composition: Framing

One of the best rules of composition is the use of framing. It's more of a photography tip than a rule really but the it is such a useful idea that I decided to include it in this section.

The idea is to frame your subject using trees, rocks, hills or anything inanimate that you can find. 


Using a frame creates a kind of psychological trick which keeps the eye contained within the image which is important as the eyes, by their very nature, wander around a scene looking for the next interesting thing and given half a chance will wander out of the picture. By framing your shot, you keep the eyes where you want them - on the subject of your photo.

Frames help your photography composition in the following ways:

  • They create a feeling of depth within the picture - don't forget this is actually a 2-dimensional image so you need to use every trick possible to create a 3-dimensional effect.
  • Some frames can actually lead the eye into the picture, if done in the right way.
  • Creating a frame with branches or a door and so on can help to keep your viewer's eye within the picture
  • A frame can give a formality to the shot, particularly with architectural images.
  • The frame can give a context for the shot and adds more information about your subject.
  • Framing can help to block out objects further forward in the scene which you don't want to include in your final composition.
  • Some frames can actually be a subject on their own - see some of the images below.

Frames abound once you start looking for them - windows, bridges, trees, arches, a person's placed on the hip, tunnels... it's endless. Of course the frame doesn't have to form a closed shape, it can be open on one or more sides.

However, if adding the frame clutters the composition then it might be better to leave it out. If the scene you are shooting already has a lot happening in it, then you probably don't need to add a frame to it.

Rules of Composition: Examples of Framing

Above: The Sea by Anna Cervova

I love the above shot because the frame is as important as the sea in the distance because of the lovely golden light on the stone wall. In fact the background of sea is not that eventful but it works together with the frame in the foreground to create a nice shot.

Above: St. James Church by James Yardley

In this shot, the photographer has used a low angle and shot up through the trees which a great example of framing. The trees in the shot seem to blend in with the dark, shadowy foreground to make a triangular-shape. It has given the shot the feeling that we are actually standing there peeking through the trees.

Above: Chalet Window by Petr Kratochvil

I don't think the flowers in this shot are actually that interesting but by including a large proportion of wall as a frame, there is an interesting abstract quality to the picture.

Above: Rainbow Through the Trees by David Wagner

We all love rainbows and this one is beautifully captured with the large, graceful trees on either side.

Above: Graffiti by Michael Drummond

The buldings in this picture act as the frame or rather the graffiti does. Not as obvious as some of the other examples and again, the frame is probably more interesting than the figure in the centre but both the subject and the frame depend on each other.

Above: Colonnade by Vera Kratochvil

Another good example of framing and one where the lines and the frame combined to draw the eye into the picture creating a real sense of 3-dimensionality.

Above: Horse in the Frame by Kim Newberg

Here is an example of framing where the frame, again a window, looks like the kind of conventional frame we would put around a picture for hanging on the wall, if a little weathered.

Above: Sunset by Anna Cervova

Imaginative use of twigs to hold the sun - looks a bit like fingers or pincers.

Above: Winter Scene by Michael Drummond

This picture actually has three sets of frames: the large, stone gate posts; the bushes with the snow; and the tall tree trunks. Layering the frames in this way really works well to create 3-dimensions and to draw the eye in to the house snuggled in the background.

Above: The Old Room by Anna Cervova

A double frame here, again imaginative treatment of a fairly uneventful scene. I think the warm, golden light on the stonework helps too.

Above: Derelict Ruin by Michael Drummond

This one is a partial frame but works as well as the second image in holding the eye within the frame. A straight shot of the ruin would not have been anywhere near as interesting.

I hope you will try the framing technique as by now you can see that it can only help your photography composition. It's a simple tip but a powerful one, and natural frames can be found everywhere.

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