Photography lesson - Framing

Great photography is as much about what you leave out of a photograph, as what you put in. This page looks at the issue of framing.

When we look at 'holiday snaps' we often see people have tried to get everything in the shot. I have lots of pictures from my childhood of my family standing in a row in front of european cathedrals or fountains or mountain views.

Although these hold fond memories, they are not 'good photos' in the sense that nobody but family and friends would ever be interested in seeing them. (and even then, there would be some yawning!)

Consider the following 'holiday snap'

poor framing example

There are a number of elements fighting for attention here. The canal, the trees and reflections, the girl and the bridge are all standing out with about equal strength and as a result, none of them win the battle for supremacy. However, when we re-frame the photo to exclude the bridge and the girl we get this.

better framing

While there are still a million things wrong with this picture, there is at least less clutter and a stronger sense of mood and atmosphere. This is now a photograph of a peaceful canal on a sunny day.

Framing is about choosing your subject. Another term we use is composition.

Here is another example. Although not badly composed this photograph's framing could be tweaked to improve it.


In the second image (below) we have removed a lot of sand from in front of the boat. It was dull and lifeless and detracted from the boat which was the main purpose of taking the shot in the first place.

boat with foreground removed

Compare the two shots above. The difference is subtble yet profound. The second shot is just better. Thinking about the elements in a shot and whether they are achieving anything is something that takes time to master. Just take your time. Take different versions of the same shot; some with foreground, others without. Later on you can look at them dispassionately and decide which is best.

Now let's take a look at positioning of elements within the frame.

tractor composition

This shot of a rusty old tractor was one of a sequence of about 50 I shot on a sunny day in February 2008. Many of the shots were dull, but due to the framing or composition of the elements, this particular photo stood out as the best.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to deciding where a particular element is placed. Photography is as much an art as a science and deciding where in the frame something should sit is entirely up to you. However there are some great 'rules of thumb' that generally produce pleasing results. The most well known is the thirds rule. It says that if major elements of a picture can hit imaginary lines drawn at one third up, down or across the frame the result will be pleasing to the eye.

Nowadays digital camera manufacturers add a grid to make it easy for you.

In your camera settings you should be able to get a grid like the one below overlayed on your screen.

framing grid

The lines are drawn at one third intervals. The four points A,B,C and D are where eyes like to fall within a frame, so placing a key element in one of these spots means you have a good chance of producing a decent shot.

However, dont be wedded to this. The picture "Elephant creation" by 
Ben Osborne which was Overall Winner of the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2007-2008 totally ignored the rule of thirds in his winning entry.

The rule of thirds is actually just an approximation of the 'golden ratio' rule which has been used by artists for over 2000 years.

Now lets move on to one of my favourite tiopics, close-up photography.