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Composition Concepts: Framing

No this isn't the act of printing out your photos and putting them in siiiiick, matte white Ikea frames. This kind of framing is the compositional technique of drawing attention to the subject by creating a frame using environmental, architectural or lighting to pull the viewer into your image. Framing often also helps add context to an image, telling more of the story so you don't have to with words.


Environmental Framing:

If you choose to shoot in a natural environment this can often give you amazing framing options. Much like the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco many elements in nature create beautiful framing for subjects. Whether it be a leafy garden growing around a man-made frame or the pure natural frame of trees and their canopy. Nature makes an amazing framing tool if you take a step back before clicking the shutter, and view your surroundings with a different perspective.


Architectural Framing:

Architectural elements are probably the easiest way to engage a viewer and are often fairly easy to find. Geometric shapes and framing elements can be found all over cities and urban environments. You'll likely be able to find arches, columns, doorways, playground fixtures and buildings that can help to frame your shots. In this example the bridge is framed by the high-rise buildings and leading lines are used to draw the eye to the subject of the image. But more on leading lines in a future post.


Light Framing:

Light - or lack thereof - can be used to your advantage as well. With the combination of light and darkness a subject can be easily framed. As in the example above the light shines on the subject and the shadows around it frame him perfectly. With a little help from an architectural element (the arch) this technique of framing with shadows and highlights can be used in many different circumstances. All you have to do is change how you see the world before you take the photo, this creates intention in your process and often more timeless and engaging imagery.


A few tips to help you practice:

1. Training your eyes. Walk around your neighborhood with the intention to look for framing elements as you go, try to find at least 4 unique frames (2 natural & 2 architectural) as you stroll. By doing this it will help to train your eye to see these everywhere you go.

2. Find your subject, photograph it as you normally would first. After you've done this, take a look around and see if there are any framing elements. Something as simple as a door frame or window can often be a good place to start if you are new to this concept of composition.

3. Focus on the subject not the frame. The frame is meant to be a supporting element not the star of the show. The human eye should be drawn to the subject and not the frame.

4. Use foreground elements that add context to the subject. This is easy in theory but can sometimes be more difficult in practice. Find elements that help tell the story and don't take away from it.

5. Practice, practice, practice. Go out and see your world in a new way, capture what you see. You might just surprise yourself. The more you practice the better you'll get.


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