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Create Strong Photographic Composition Using Framing

Photography is a combination of many skills. You have to learn the technical (exposure, white balance, etc), the aesthetic (how it looks, is the image visually interesting), and about post-processing. In a past article “3 Tips to Help you Compose Photos That Don't Suck” we looked at a few basic ways to start taking your photos from snapshot to art. In this article we're going to look at another compositional element used by photographers and artists alike – that is “framing”.

In this image of Eastman Kodak House (the home of the founder of Kodak, George Eastman), the trees arching overhead make a frame around the house drawing the viewer's attention inward.

What is framing?

Framing is exactly as it implies, seeing your image through something that frames it such as; a doorway, a window, through leaves of a tree, etc.

Framing your subject within a another is a strong, graphical composition. The ideal is to use the frame portion to complement and highlight the subject.


Tips for using framing

  • Look for ways to shoot through natural frames to highlight your subject. Trees, doorways and windows work well.
  • If you find an interesting subject, photograph it as you normally would first. Then look behind you to see if there is anything that can be used as a frame. Sometimes simply backing up and shooting through the doorway behind you does the trick.
  • Focus on the subject, NOT the foreground element which is the frame. The viewer's eye will go to the sharpest area of the image and you want that to be the subject. You don't want the frame drawing attention, it should support the subject, not take away from it.
  • Make sure the element being used as a frame isn't overly bright. Like sharp focus, brightness also draws the viewer's attention. If you're shooting into a building and using the doorway as a frame – but the outside of the doorway is in sunlight and the inside where you subject is location is much darker – it will not be as effective because the door will stand out more. In such a situation I would suggest just going inside and not including the bright doorway.
  • You must frame SOMETHING INTERESTING! Just because you have a frame in your image doesn't mean it will be a winner. You have to have something worth framing on the other side. You must still have a center of interest – a subject. Framing an empty parking lot with a lovely tree – is still an empty parking lot. Consider if the photo of the subject being framed would be interesting enough on its own first. If it is, then go ahead and frame it. If not – adding a frame will NOT make it more interesting. This is the biggest mistake I see beginners make when attempting to use framing.
Having the tree or branches framing the bride gives the image an element of mystery. Like we're peeking in on something.

Geometric frames

Using strong shapes to frame is graphically interesting. Shapes like squares (doors, windows), circles (could be a window), or archways make great framing material.




Natural frames

These would include the obvious tree branches, leaves, flowers, etc.


In the image above I used a few other compositional elements. The pathway is a leading line – draws your attention toward the temple. Complementary colors – the green trees and blue sky help the red temple stand out even more. But the large trees on both sides provide a solid feel to the image, a stability if you will, and they help to keep your eye in the center of the image on the temple. I took a few shots from closer up, as I stood in front of the trees. As I walked away from the temple, I simply turned back to have a look and saw this scene – which to me is a far superior image.

I found these little clothes pegs on the line on Koh Samui, Thaliand. Then I noticed the funny pattern the leaves on the tree directly in front of me made and how they oddly mimicked the clothes pegs. It's one of my favorite images. It's so simple – but it all works together.

Think outside the box

There are many other ways you can use framing. Have a look around right now – what do you see in your current location that could be used as a frame?

  • eyeglasses or sunglasses
  • a car window
  • people
  • chair or table legs
  • how about people legs or dog's legs? Get down low!
I know this is a window but it's in a car junk yard in an old mine. This fellow was our model for one of my workshops and the light was just right in between two cars. I took some of him straight on then moved around behind one of the cars to get this shot.
Notice how the old car's windshield is the frame here (or partial frame). I think it adds to a sense of time and interest in the image – with the word “Automobile” on the window and the gentlemen's period costume (they are actors at a museum).


I love the layers and depth in this image (above). If you've ever been to New Orleans you know exactly where this was taken! Cafe du Monde – you can see the people having coffee in the foreground and they have actually become the frame here. Then our sax player is the subject. In the background you see the art for sale in the square across the street and some people browsing as they pass by. For me is sums up this coffee shop and the area in one image.

Action plan

Now it's your turn. Have you used framing in your images before? If not now is the time to try it. Give it a go and share your images in the comments below. Remember this is not an easy one to get right off so practice, practice, practice. If you're doing the use your camera daily challenge here's something you can integrate.

If you want more help with composition you might want to check out our online course – 4 Weeks to Better Photography where I cover framing and quite a few other elements of composition in more detail.


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