This is a guide on everything you need to know about framing in photography.
Good framing in a photograph is what separates amateurs from professionals. With that being said, let’s dive into what it is, how to use it, and more!
Table of Contents
What is Framing in Photography?
In visual art, including photography, framing can be described as the presentation of visual elements of an image formed by a subject’s placement in relation to another object. Framing helps increase the aesthetic value of an image.
It helps create symmetry and draws attention to the framed object.
As a photographer, you may often hear of framing in photography and how this technique plays a vital role in creating a powerful picture.
We often see a photograph of mountainous scenery from inside a tent.
This technique gives us a different sense from a regular mountainous scenery photo.
This kind of picture allows us to see the view from the photographer’s perspective.
We can even feel as if we are there, inside the tent as well.
In this example, the tent opening is being used to frame the mountains:
We also often see similar images such as a sky view from an airplane window. Or a lake view from inside the house framed by a door.
Those are a few examples of framing in photography. Framing is one of the most important elements of photography.
Framing is what makes a picture interesting. It gives us a different point of view and a distinct sense of how we see the image.
It also helps with the composition, creates depth, and makes the object even more interesting, especially when placed in a thematic frame.
In photography, framing helps manipulate the viewpoint that allows the viewer’s attention not only to the object of the photo but also to the meaning of its surroundings.
It enables the viewers to see the image’s context and feel certain emotions presented in the image.
In other words, the meaning of framing in photography is the use of elements in a particular composition to create visual balance and lead the viewer’s attention to the primary object.
Framing in Photography Ideas
There are a lot of framing options in photography.
Below are a few framing examples in photography that are most commonly used:
1. Nature Framing
This is obvious that you can use any elements that are not man-made, such as trees, leaves, grass, flowers, etc. to frame your object.
This is probably one of the most popular framing techniques used in photography, especially landscape photography.
Even with nature framing, you still must make sure that the frame and the objects fit harmoniously.
Here’s an example we showed earlier:
You may want to pay attention to the overall theme and color story to ensure that the frame complements the primary object even more.
2. Architecture Framing
Architecture framing is not limited to doors and windows.
It also applies to other elements such as curtains, blinds, fences, bridges, stairs, allies, streetlamps, and many more.
You can also use another building to frame another building if you think it fits. Here’s an example we showed earlier.
The buildings are framing the airplane flying over the sky:
3. Light and Shadow
You do not have to stick with a material object to use as a frame.
You can use more abstract elements, such as lights and shadows.
You will understand it better once you see a picture of a man in a cave, showered by sunlight that comes from above.
The lights provide a frame that draws our attention directly to the object.
In this example, the man is being framed by the light and shadow created from the sunlight creeping into the stairwell:
You can also use non-natural light sources to create a similar effect, such as using a spotlight or a torch.
You can also play with bokeh to create a light frame in the background or foreground.
This technique is quite popular, along with the rise of neon and nightlife photography.
4. Environmental Objects
You need to adapt to the place you are taking pictures.
For example, if you take a food picture for a street food photography concept, you can use signs and stands to frame the food.
This way, you provide context to the viewer, so they understand the environment without further explanations.
Moving vehicles and people is also part of environmental objects.
You can use the traffic and crowds to create a frame for your picture.
It will look even better if you can adjust your lenses to create a blurry movement out of the crowds or traffic.
In this example, the car windows are being used to frame another car:
If you cannot find any interesting objects you can use to frame your picture, you can make them yourself.
Use some properties such as mirrors, fake plants, fabric, your fingers, or even an actual frame.
The key is to make it work with the primary object and its surroundings, so the frame serves its purpose well.
In this example, you can use your fingers to frame a subject which in this photo is the sun:
6. Body Frame
This technique is often used in model photography.
The model poses in a certain way that creates an illusion of a frame.
For example, they can place their hands around their face.
They can also play with their hair, clothes, and other property to frame their body.
In this example, we have the model lifting up her arm to create a frame and the arrows on the ground also act as another frame:
How do You Use Framing in Photography?
Now that you know what framing in photography is, you may want to know how to use framing in photography.
1. Pick a Subject
Before using any kind of framing on a photo, first, you have to decide on the object of the photo because it is the main focus you want the viewer’s eyes to draw into.
After you decide on the object, you need to decide on the story.
2. What Story do you Want to Tell
What do you want to represent in the photo? Why does this object matter? How do you want the viewers to see the object? How do you want them to feel about the items?
After you gather all your goals, you can now choose to frame to help you achieve all the purposes listed.
You can use what is available around the objects. If there is nothing, you can create it yourself.
In this example, the two people walking are the subjects and we are using the trees to frame them. The story being told through the image is one of companionship and adventure:
Framing is one thing in photography that is fluid. It means you do not have to follow specific rules to achieve it.
You can even mix and match different kinds of objects with additional framing.
For example, you can frame a building using natural frames, and vice versa. You can also use moving frames such as people walking around, a moving train, or vehicles.
To do the framing right, you need to pay attention to your camera setting.
Remember, you want the object to become the center of attention and not the other way around.
3. Know Your Focus
Make sure that your camera is focusing on the objects and not the frame.
You also need to make sure that the frame compliments the object and adds meaning and context to the object.
Therefore, the frame should not overpower the object.
In this example, the focus should be on the man walking and the surrounding trees are framing him:
You also need to pay attention to the composition and the right distance between the object, the frame, and the camera.
Another thing to pay attention to is that you need to choose an object that is interesting enough on its own.
If you do not have an interesting object, the framing will not help at all.
The object is still the main focus, and the framing only helps creates depth and makes the object stronger.
At first, you can try to capture the object on its own and then try to find something you can use to frame the object.
This way, you know that you have an exciting attention-grabbing object.
The framing will make it more powerful and pleasing.
7 Framing in Photography Examples
here are examples of famous photographs that use framing techniques effectively:
1. “Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry
This iconic portrait features a young Afghan girl with piercing green eyes, framed by the vibrant red fabric of her headscarf.
The scarf serves as a natural frame, drawing attention to her intense gaze.
2. “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange
In this powerful documentary photograph, the Migrant Mother, from the Great Depression era, the face of the distressed mother is framed by her children’s heads as they huddle together.
The composition emphasizes the hardship of the time.
3. “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare” by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Cartier-Bresson, known for his mastery of the decisive moment, in his photo Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare captured a man mid-leap over a puddle in this photograph.
The jumping figure is framed by the puddle’s reflection and the surrounding urban elements.
4. “Tiananmen Square” by Stuart Franklin
This photograph from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing captures a lone protester standing in front of a line of advancing Chinese military tanks.
The tanks are framed by the buildings of the square, emphasizing the individual’s courage.
5. “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” by Charles C. Ebbets
This historic photograph, Lunch atop a Skyscraper, shows construction workers eating lunch on a beam high above New York City during the construction of the Rockefeller Center.
The composition frames the subjects against the city skyline backdrop, emphasizing their work’s daring nature.
6. “The Steerage” by Alfred Stieglitz
Stieglitz’s photograph, The Steerage, taken in 1907, captures passengers on a ship’s steerage deck.
The composition uses the railings and geometric elements to frame the various passengers, creating a striking and complex image.
7. “Kiss by the Hotel de Ville” by Robert Doisneau
This romantic photograph, Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, captures a spontaneous kiss between a couple on a Parisian street.
The city’s architecture and the bystanders form a natural frame around the intimate moment.
What is a Natural Frame in Photography?
The natural frame is more prevalent in landscape photography.
Even though another style of photography also often uses natural framing.
A natural frame refers to the use of natural objects such as trees, branches, leaves, etc. to frame the object.
Natural framing is a fantastic way to add aesthetic value to an object, especially when the object tends to look lonely on its own.
For example, if you want to capture a mountain, you must capture the sky as well.
But what if the sky looks empty without any clouds?
The viewer’s attention may get drawn to the negative space in the sky and not the mountain. How do you avoid this from happening?
You add framing to block some parts of the empty sky to draw the viewer’s attention to the peak.
You can use trees, branches, leaves, and other objects that are harmonious with the mountain.
This is another thing to pay attention to. The frame should have a connection with the object because the goal is to complement the object.
You can, of course, use random objects to frame, but it may reduce the value instead of making the objects appear stronger.
But what if the sky looks empty without any clouds? In this example, the two buildings frame the airplane.
When to Use Framing in Photography?
You may be wondering when you should use framing in photography.
There really is no right or wrong time to use framing as it is just one compositional technique out of many. But here are some common scenarios when you should consider using framing.
One common use of framing is in landscape photography, where natural elements such as trees or archways can be used to frame the subject, creating a more visually interesting image. Framing can also be used in portraits, where elements such as doorways or windows can be used to frame the subject’s face, drawing attention to their features and adding depth to the image.
Another situation where framing can be effective is when photographing architecture or cityscapes. Buildings or structures can be used to create a frame around the subject, creating a sense of depth and scale that helps tell the story of the image.
What is a Frame within a Frame within Photography?
When we learn about framing in photography, we will stumble upon something called a frame within a frame.
Frame within a frame is when you use multiple frames in one picture.
The use of a frame within a frame is to add more depth to the picture.
For example, do you want to photograph buildings through the window of a car?
The buildings are what you want the viewer’s attention drawn to.
That is an example of a frame within a frame. A frame within a frame is a tricky technique.
If it’s done wrong, it can be distracting and make the images look worse.
You need to pay attention to the composition.
Otherwise, the viewer’s eyes might get drawn to the wrong places other than the primary object.
But if you do it right, you will get a powerful image with a strong depth and exciting composition with powerful meaning.
Why is Framing in Photography Important?
To become a good photographer, you may wish to understand why framing is so important.
There are a lot of reasons why framing is so important in photography.
It is one of the critical factors to create a powerful image and not only a picture you capture.
Below are some reasons why you should pay attention to framing:
1. Lead Viewer’s Attention
One of the purposes of framing is to lead the viewer’s attention to the primary object.
The right framing creates a sense of stability.
It keeps the viewer’s attention away from distracting elements other than the primary object.
2. Depth of Field
Framing also adds depth to the photos.
Framing also serves its purpose as a layer.
Adding a frame adds a layer to your image that creates a multidimensional feel to the picture, making it deeper and more alive.
Another purpose of framing in photography is to create a balance between negative space and positive space.
It draws the viewer’s attention away from any distracting elements and leads them to focus on the primary object instead.
It also creates a more balanced composition that is more pleasing for the eyes.
4. Bring Out Details
Framing in photography can create more details and draw attention to even more details.
You can use this technique by blurring the objects in the foreground.
This will help the primary object to stand out even more and also provides more details at the same time.
5. Create a Stronger Image
By using framing in your image, you create a much more powerful image with meaning.
Framing provides context to the object, and it helps the viewer understand the overall story of the image.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Framing in Photography
Framing may seem so easy, but believe it or not, there are some common mistakes to avoid when you use framing:
Overusing the Framing Technique
One of the most common mistakes is to overuse framing, leading to a cluttered and confusing image. Using too many elements to frame the subject can overwhelm the viewer, making it difficult to focus on the subject itself.
Using a Distracting Framing Element
The second mistake to avoid is using a framing element that takes away from the main subject in your image.
For example, if you use a tree branch that is partially in the frame covering your subject or causing a misbalance in the image it can actually hinder the image.
In some cases, framing can be inappropriate or detract from the subject of the image. For example, using a busy frame in a portrait can make the image feel cluttered and chaotic, taking away from the subject’s features.
Ignoring Other Photography Composition Techniques
The fourth mistake to avoid when framing is to ignore other composition techniques.
As mentioned, raming is just one element of composition in photography, and it’s important to consider other elements such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and negative space when framing the image. Ignoring these other elements can create a less compelling image overall.
Using Post-Production for Framing
One must not also forget that you can use the help of post-production software tools such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop to create a framing composition or enhance one.
Post-production tools can be used to enhance and refine framing in photography. With editing software, you can adjust the composition and framing of an image, either by cropping the image or by adding elements to the frame.
Cropping can be a powerful tool for framing an image, allowing the photographer to adjust the size and placement of the subject within the frame. This can help create a more dynamic composition, drawing the viewer’s eye to the subject and creating a more engaging image. However, it’s important to be careful not to crop too much and lose important elements of the image.
In addition to cropping, post-production tools such as cloning or adding elements to the image can also be used to enhance framing. For example, if there is a distracting element in the frame, such as a telephone pole or other object, a photographer can use cloning tools to remove it and create a cleaner composition. Alternatively, a photographer can add elements to the frame, such as a border or vignette, to create a more dynamic and visually interesting image.
With these tools, you can also adjust the colors and contrast of an image, which can help enhance the framing and composition of the photograph. By making adjustments to the brightness and contrast, a photographer can create a more dramatic and engaging image that draws the viewer’s eye to the subject.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the types of framing in photography?
The three basic types of framing include using unusual angles, environmental framing, and a frame within a frame.
How does framing affect your eye when you look at a photo?
Framing determines what is in focus, and what will be most prominent/promoted in the frame. Framing also controls what has the most visual weight, which helps users decide where to look first.
Why do photographers use framing?
Framing lets the photographer control the narrative of a photograph. It allows them to highlight or deemphasize elements, which can create an entirely different meaning for a photo.
On a final note, in order to understand what framing is in photography, you need to practice and not just read the theory.
The theories will give you a general view of framing in photography.
Still, in the end, you need to experience it yourself.
You can try to take a lot of pictures following the tips and rules.
But remember, the rules are meant to be broken. You can break the rules and frame your picture, however you please.
But of course, it is still important to understand photography framing the right way first.
Once you know how to frame it right, you can then break it but with purpose.
Because you already understand what is framing in photography and how it works, you know what you are doing.
For example, the rules said you need to make sure that the frame is in harmony with the object.
You can achieve this by ensuring that the theme, the aesthetic, and the color story of the frame matched the object.
But you can break it by contrasting it completely. For example, you want to capture a very modern building and add more vintage elements to frame it.
It will create contrast and make the image more interesting.
Overall, photography is a form of art. There is no right or wrong.
You can follow specific rules or break them completely, whichever suit your style better.
Once you get it, you may not have to think about it anymore and let your gut lead your way in taking pictures.
Jon has been a passionate photographer for 10+ years. Fun fact is that he has a collection of around 300-400 cameras that his family has collected over the years. Outside of photography, he has a Masters Degree in Engineering and has 13 years experience working in the industry across the globe.