Photography Composition

Frame Within a Frame Photography for Beginners

Photo of author
Written By Nate Torres

In this guide, we’ll be exploring images that utilize the frame within a frame composition technique.

Prefer a video? Check out the video I made on this topic:

Frame Within a Frame Photography for Beginners
Frame Within a Frame Photography: (5-Step Guide) Video

If successfully implemented, images that utilize the frame within a frame composition technique are very unique and can easily stand out among other photos.

In fact, many award-winning photos implement this composition technique:

award winning photo frame within a frame
© Adam Ferguson, Australia, Photographer of the Year, Professional competition, Portraiture, 2022 Sony World Photography Awards
award winning photo frame within a frame 2
© Jan Grarup, Denmark, 1st Place, Professional competition, Documentary Projects, 2022 Sony World Photography Awards
© Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, United Kingdom, Shortlist, Professional competition, Creative, 2022 Sony World Photography Awards
© Tomas Vocelka, Czech Republic, 1st Place, Professional competition, Architecture & Design, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

It’s a simple, but effective photography composition technique.

This is great if you want to gain views to your image if you post photos to social media.

Or if you publish your photos on another medium such as a blog, a magazine, or within other digital platforms.

The beauty of images that utilize the frame within a frame technique is that it’s a fairly easy composition technique to use!

In this guide, I’ll be covering:

  • Definition of frame within a frame
  • How to produce an image that follows the frame within a frame composition
  • Why frame within a frame is often used
  • When to use frame within a frame
  • Examples of frame within a frame

Let’s dive right in.

What is a Frame Within a Frame?

A frame within a frame is a composition technique that places a subject within a framing object within the main frame.

Before taking a closer look at this definition, it’s important that you first understand what a frame is.

A frame is a structure or enclosing that surrounds or encloses something.

A photography composition technique is a technique that an artist uses to compose their image or work of art.

There are many photography composition techniques and a frame within a frame is just one of them along with normal framing.

Within any image, there is usually a subject or main focal point that the viewer should be drawn to – or else the image is lifeless.

Examples of subjects could include hills on a mountain, the sun, a person, an animal, etc.

The framing object the subject should be placed within can include anything that acts like a frame such as a doorway, a window, arches, etc.

The subject along with the framing object should be placed within the main frame – which is the framing of the image itself and how it’s cropped.

frame-within-a-frame-photography (1)
Main frame, framing object, and subject – components of a “frame within a frame” composition

Let’s dive into how to make an image that follows the frame within a frame composition.

How do You Make a Frame Within a Frame Photos?

When it comes to composing an image that follows the frame within a frame technique, it’s fairly easy.

It mostly requires planning and preparation.

I’ve identified five main steps when it comes to composing and capturing an image that successfully captures the frame within a frame technique.

1. Know Your Image Layers

The first step is to first know and understand your image layers.

The layers in an image usually consist of a foreground, a middle-ground, and a background.

Not all images utilize all three layers.

But in an image that follows the frame within a frame composition, it’s important to know your layers.

This is because you will most likely be using one of these layers as your framing object.

layers in photography example (1)
layers in photography example

Layers allow you to create a sense of depth and dimension in the image.

We’ll be coming back to this concept later in the article.

By using foreground, middle ground, and background elements, you can create visual hierarchy.

This will allow you to guide the viewer’s eye through the scene and highlights the main subject.

Additionally:

Using layers can create a sense of scale and context.

This can help the viewer understand the relative size and distance of the elements in the image.

This technique can add interest, depth, and drama to an image and bring more attention to the main subject.

2. Find Framing Objects

The second step after picking a subject is to find a framing object.

Examples of framing objects could include doorways, arches, windows, poles, trees, bars, etc.

Anything that frames your subject will work well as a framing object.

It’s also important to note that the framing object does not only have to be a square or a rectangle, nor does it have to encapsulate the subject on four sides (top, bottom, left, right).

Bonus: If you can find a framing object that helps further enhance the story of the image to create juxtaposition, then the better.

For example:

In this image, the main subject is the older building but the framing objects are newer skyscrapers.

This image symbolizes time, modernization, and corporatization of the world.

juxtaposition in photography example

Once you’ve found a suitable framing object, it’s time to move to step three.

3. Pick a Subject

The third step is to pick a subject.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but the subject will serve as the main focal point and the anchor of the image.

Knowing what the subject is will allow us as photographers to then find the rest of the elements that will work with the subject.

For example, if our subject is a hill in a landscape photo, then we may choose to frame them with surrounding trees.

Or if our subject is a person on a street, then we may choose to frame them with light poles or street lights.

When picking a subject or focal point for frame within a frame photography, there are a few things to consider:

  • The subject should be well-defined and distinct.
  • Avoid subjects that are too busy or cluttered.
  • The subject and the framing object should make relational sense.
  • The lighting should be in a way that it brings out the subject and the frame within a frame.
  • The background should be in a way that complements the subject and the frame within a frame.
  • The color of the subject and the frame within a frame should be in a way that they complement each other.

For example:

The framing objects I used in this image were the pillars underneath the pier and I found my subject to be a surfer:

frame within a frame photography good framing
surfer as the subject

This leads us to our next step.

4. Manage the Distance and Depth

The fourth step is to manage distance and depth.

Pay attention to the “distance” between the main frame, the framing object, and the subject and the depth this distance creates.

This concept goes back to the concept of layers that I discussed earlier with the foreground, middle-ground, and background.

If there is no sense of depth within the image, then it could end up feeling very bland.

You will want to do this/look for this before placing your subject within the framing object and taking a photo.

Managing distance in a frame within a frame photo can be achieved through the use of different techniques, such as:

  • Using different focal lengths: A wide-angle lens will make the background appear closer to the subject, while a telephoto lens will compress the background and make it appear further away.
  • Playing with perspective: By positioning the camera at different angles and heights, you can create the illusion of depth and distance in the image.
  • Using depth of field: A shallow depth of field will make the subject stand out by blurring the background and foreground, creating the illusion of distance between the subject and the framing object.
  • Using leading lines: Leading lines are lines in an image that lead the viewer’s eye to the subject. By using leading lines, you can guide the viewer’s eye through the image and create the illusion of depth and distance.
  • Using foreground elements: By including foreground elements in the image, you can create the illusion of depth and distance. This can also make the image more interesting and dynamic.
  • Using layers: By including different layers in the image, you can create the illusion of depth and distance. This can also make the image more interesting and dynamic.
  • Move your body: If you are still having trouble finding elements in your current scene to add depth, then move to a different location and use a different framing object or move to a different spot that still uses the same framing object but different foreground or background elements.

Use these considerations if you have a framing object and a subject but find that there is not much “depth” to the image.

5. Put your Subject Within the Framing Object

The fifth and final step is to place your subject within the framing object.

Ideally, you will want the subject to be in the middle of the framing object.

This is because framing in itself is another composition technique that has to be remembered.

If the subject is not in the middle of the framing object, it could throw off the spacing and overall composition of the image.

For example:

Here is an example of a mistimed shot where I couldn’t get the subject in the middle of the framing object and he is too far to the left:

frame within a frame photography bad framing
subject is too far to the left

Here is an example where I was able to get the subject in the middle of the framing object:

frame within a frame photography good framing
subject in the middle

Of course, if they are slightly to the right or to the left then it’s fine, but you don’t want them to be too far left or too far right.

Once your subject is within the framing object, it’s up to your subject or you to figure out what the subject is doing in terms of posing.

A topic for another day.

Why are Frame Within a Frame Shots Used?

Frame within a frame images are often used because they often stand out among other photos.

There’s something about a good photo that employs the frame within a frame technique.

It makes you look at the photo and ask yourself “what about this photo is making me look at it?

frame within a frame photography example (1)
framing example

When to Use a Frame Within a Frame?

Use frame within a frame if you’re trying to create a unique-looking image that is also visually appealing at the same time.

Frame within a frame images are great at directing the viewer’s focus to the point of focus while also establishing a desired perspective.

When to Not Use a Frame Within a Frame?

We’ve discussed when to use a frame within a frame, but is there anytime when you shouldn’t?

The answer is yes.

I’ve briefly touched on this earlier, but the framing object that the subject is in should align with the subject and “make sense.”

It shouldn’t be a random framing object that feels like it was forced into the photo.

It should feel natural.

For example:

If you are in an office setting and your subject is a worker in the office, example framing objects could be office doors or windows.

Another example is if you are in a forest setting, then your framing objects could be surrounding trees or animals.

What you don’t want to do is introduce an artificial framing object that feels forced.

This could be poles you brought or a random object you brought in to act as a framing object such as an unnatural window frame.

Remember:

The frame within the frame should act as more than just an aesthetic function.

It should also act as an element in the image to further enhance the story and its intended conveyed emotions.

Frame Within a Frame Photography Examples

frame within a frame photography example (1)
image underneath a pier that I took
frame within a frame photography
subject framed within the iron bars
frame within a frame photography good framing
surfer framed within the columns
frame within a frame photography example good
framed within the palm trees

Why are frame within a frame shots used?

Images that follow a frame within a frame composition technique often stand out due to their visual appeal.

What are 3 objects you could use to create frame within a frame?

Example objects that can be used include trees, gates, a road, fences, windows, etc.

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