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Framing in photography is often used to direct the viewer's eye towards the subject of an image. Here's what it is and how to best use it.
How we frame a shot in photography usually refers to how we set the shot up in our viewfinder or LCD screen, yet there’s a different kind of framing that’s set up in the scene itself. “Framing” in this context refers to using elements in the scene to surround some parts of the image in order to draw the viewer’s attention to the subject. For example, you might shoot through an arch, a doorway, or pulled back curtains to create a frame effect. Similarly, you might use branches or hedges to cover up space around the subject, drawing the viewer’s eye right to where you want it to be.
In general, there are four different types elements you can use to create a frame within your shot: architectural, natural, geometric shapes, and light/shadow.
The architecture provides some of the easiest elements for photo framing. Doorways, arches, and windows create instantaneous openings through which we can focus. In the photo below, the photographer used a hole in the wall to bring focus to the cemetery beyond.Photo Credit: Teryani Riggs
Nature provides many interesting possibilities for framing: the branches of trees, flowers l, canyon walls, sandstone formations. All of these can be used to direct the eye. You can even use weather elements like rain or fog. In the photo below, the trees and ground form a triangular frame around the subject, directing the eye towards the center and then off towards the mountains above.Photo Credit: Haziq Tumaran
Shapes of any type can be used to create a frame. Circles, squares, and rectangles are the most obvious, but rarely the most interesting. In the photo below, photographer Claudel Rheault uses a spiral to bring attention to the subject up in the right hand corner.Photo Credit: Claudel Rheault
Both light and shadow can be used to create forms for framing. Sometimes they’re as simple as an actual shape formed around the scene (like photographing a subject inside a window frame shadow). Other times they can function much like a vignette. Take the photo below, for instance. Although it’s not a recognizable shape, the darkness around the band makes a frame around the lit area, making sure they’re the center of focus.Photo Credit: Diego Sulivan
Framing isn’t a technique that’s easy to do well. In fact, it’s so often poorly done, the standard wisdom is to use it sparingly. That being said, there are certainly times when framing can greatly enhance a photo.
Some of the best times to use framing include:
In all reality, framing is a difficult technique to do well. Learning to do it in a way that truly enhances your images will take a fair amount of vision and creativity (unless the frame is already naturally occurring). So, in general, it’s best not overused. Still, if you can master the technique, you’ll likely create some rather extraordinary shots.
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