Picture this: you’re in the middle of an action scene, you’ve got all the camera gear you need in your hands and now, all you have to do is to decide what kind of shot you would like to take. In that split second, the photographer has to make a decision on how to frame it. The key question posed is “where should you place your subject?”.
Ultimately, this composition technique can be the difference between an image that falls flat or a professional-looking image that stands out. So, here are a few design rules to help you finetune your framing technique.
To get you started, there are two simple factors to consider — what you want the mood of your final image to be and what your subject is. Often times, the mood of an image is determined by what’s surrounding the subjects. Framing a shot well to suit that mood requires you to look into the relationship between your subject and the context of your subject. This could be using architectural features around you, such as doorways, window frames, archways or buildings, to frame the image and draw attention to your subject. Doing so allows the eyes to focus on the subject, while bringing more interest to the image.
However, frames aren’t only limited to architectural, man-made structures. For the explorer who’s looking to capture the wonders of nature, try getting a little creative and keep an eye out for bushes, flowers, trees or grass to frame your shot. Placing your camera right behind some leaves while focusing on the subject can add colour and a ‘fly on the wall’ feeling to bring out a candid aspect in your images. Through this, you can also think of framing as a way to cut off part of the image with the surroundings or background, so that the viewer’s eyes subconsciously move towards the main subject.
When we all first started off with photography, we saw it as a straightforward process. Position your subject in the middle, keep everything in focus, and take a snap of the shot. Although this does the job, the image often comes out looking flat. Knowing when to put your subject in the centre and when to position it off-centre is an easy trick that can elevate your photography.
The rule of thirds is one of the most cited, but also most used trick in the book. Divide your image into nine equal parts and pay attention to the intersecting points. Then, place your subject on these points to create a sense of balance in the images. In a composition with heavy patterns or a cluttered background, you can still direct the viewer’s eyes to the main human subject by framing the image such that they are positioned at the bottom third of the picture. Furthermore, during action shots, leaving space for the subject to move helps to tell a story.
Centre-framing can easily tread the line between a flat image or a professional image. The eye is immediately drawn to the middle of the frame, and the viewer is led to ignore the rest of the composition. But placing your subjects in the centre could work for zoom bursts or strong shapes and centring a lined or geometric pattern can strike a satisfying visual balance.
So how much space should the subject take up in a frame? A balance has to be made between the size of subject and its surroundings. One should decide on whether or not showing the surroundings or allowing the subject to dominate the frame helps to enhance the desired mood. All of this is subjective, of course, and it is dependent on what kind of mood you’d like to portray. When you allow your subject to fit the whole frame and exclude much of its surroundings, you can emphasise its patterns and lines, adding depth to the image as they lead into a point in the middle of the frame.
On the flip side, keeping a subject small in the frame and letting the environment fill the rest instils a sense of scale in the picture. A small hiker surrounded by towering vistas and mountains gives the image an effect of vastness and isolation, highlighting the grandeur of nature.
Bringing the focus to certain objects and adjusting the aperture can help highlight which item to focus on and find balance in your framing. Adjusting this simple setting on your camera can make all the difference, as the blurred background or foreground — depending on aperture — can make for a subtle frame. This gives the image a layered feeling and can be quite handy when you’re struggling to find a physical structure to frame your image.
Other than using physical structures for framing, try using shadows and light to create natural frames. Those slivers of sunlight that flood through a window or the shadows created from the low position of a setting sun can be great ways to highlight your subjects. Balance light and darkness in relation to your subject by siting them in those slivers of light, or let a shadow conceal parts of the image to dramatise and elevate your images.
It could be said that framing is the backbone of every professional and impactful image. Try out the tips we’ve shared and transform every lacklustre image into one that tells a story and intrigues your viewers.