How to Frame Your Subject (Part One… At the Time of Capture)


When reading articles on the rules or guidelines of composition, natural framing is a crucial element in emphasizing your subject. Natural framing within the photograph will draw the viewer to the moment and to your subject. There are many ways within the photograph to naturally and artistically frame your subject at the time of capture. We'll review examples of framing while in the field. An article on framing in post processing will be coming soon.

Some frames are obvious, such as archways, angles and lines. Moab, Utah is an iconic location providing photographers with many rock formations, canyons, arches that create picture perfect frames as in below.

There are also other framing approaches that may not be quite as obvious. The elements surrounding your subject such as wind, color, space, depth of field can also frame your subject at the time of pressing the shutter. We'll look at examples of 1) Wind 2) Branches 3) Depth of Field 4) Color and 5) Space.

1. Wind

Wind is your friend in framing your subject. A stationary or slow moving subject will stand out when framed by breezy leaves, branches or grass.

The black-crowned night heron was hunting for fish from a branch. While the heavy branch and bird were fairly still, the leaves were blowing in the heavy breeze. The green movement framed the heron and contrasted with his bright red eyes.

2. Branches, Arches and Objects with Shape

A common framing technique, look for interesting shapes with limbs, vines, openings through thickets as framing opportunities.

The golden branch frames the waterfall in the Smoky Mountains. To read more about the Smoky Mountains, Photography at the Smoky Mountains.

With birds, their perches also provide natural framing as in the Western Towhee below.

3. Depth of Field

Working with a shallow depth of field provides a soft framing effect. Flowers are an obvious selection in illustrating depth of field as a framing technique.

The Cosmos flower uses two framing elements. The bright yellow center and magenta flower is surrounded by a muted green pallet using the shallow depth of field. The stem's curves leads from the back of the image to underneath the Cosmos.

4. Color

Surround color with color. Brights surrounding darks, darks surrounding brights, muted versus intensity – the use of colors and hues.

The vivid orange sunrise was framed with the dark, rich silhouettes of the trees and shrubs along the beach.

5. Space

Space may not be the first thing that comes to mind when framing your subject. The use of space as in the little boy below, emphasizes his bright red, wet hair.

Today, many photographs don't make it to print as in the past. Instead, they are in blogs, posted across social media and sent electronically. When they do go to print, the medium chosen has expanded to display options such as acrylic, metal, canvas wraps in addition to standard frames and traditional print publications. Using the framing techniques above and creating some of your own, will enhance your subject and pull the viewer in to the moment.

About Author

Sheen Watkins is a conservationist, wildlife photographer, instructor, author and photography writer. You can follow her photography on Facebook, Instagram and her website.

Good points, and beautiful images, Sheen! I also find specially attractive the use of natural branches and other elements to create frames within frames, since it helps the eye to focus on the main subject. The effective use of color to highlight our subject and an appropriate depth of field (which doesn’t need to be shallow if the subject doesn’t benefit from it) are also very helpful tools.
See some of my own captures using some of these principles from my first trip to Japan:

Lovely images Gonzalo! Really love your framing with shadows and leaves….thank you for sharing. Your trip looks like it was fabulous!!!

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