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Picturing a Frame Within a Picture Frame

by Kerry Drager

Desert Rock Frame
Desert Rock Frame
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
Options: Frames come in all shapes and sizes. Some surround an entire background subject, while other frames are partial ones: i.e., side, bottom, or top. Examples of framing devices include overhanging tree branches, arches, windows, doors, sculptures, fences, looming rock formations, fountains, flowers, architectural elements, a companion's outstretched arm, or a nearby hot-air balloon in a colorful race.

Composition: Although a foreground border often spotlights your center of interest, an extra-special frame sometimes serves as the primary subject itself. Also, a frame can show a subject in relation to its surroundings and can even produce a three-dimensional effect, in which the scene sweeps away from front to back.

© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
In addition, a border can help clean up a composition - by concealing distracting objects or by filling up a featureless sky. Occasionally you can use more than one frame - for instance, picturing a subject through the openings on separate walls of an old building.

Wide Look: An exclusive "storytelling" perspective - the ability to combine intimate details with distant views in the same picture - makes the wide-angle a valuable tool for creating frame shots. The wide-angle also helps strengthen the sense of depth, since a close-at-hand foreground appears larger in relation to the background.

Tele Views: A telephoto or tele-zoom offers its own unique look for framing. Use it to compress space - in other words, to make the frame and backdrop appear closer together than they really are.

Sunset on California Coast
Sunset on California Coast
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
Exposure: Be careful of lighting extremes - say, if your frame is in shadow and your subject is in sunlight. A camera can't record good color and details in both sunlit and shadowed areas at the same time.

Fill-in flash, however, could lighten up a shadowed foreground. But if that dark object is sharply outlined, easily identifiable, and set against a bright background, consider going for a striking silhouette to spotlight your distant subject. To achieve a silhouette, make sure your meter registers the sunlit areas of the scene and not the shaded frame.

Depth of Field: Most foreground frames look best if they are in sharp focus; others work more effectively when they are in soft focus (say, to emphasize a crisp-and-clear background subject).

Not sure? Then shoot the scene both ways: with a small aperture (high f/stop number) for maximum near-to-far sharpness and a large aperture (low f/stop number) for a "selective focus" effect. Such experimenting is crucial to success when framing frames!

More photo examples: Check out BetterPhoto's "Framing the Subject" gallery.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for, Kerry Drager is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches photography online at BetterPhoto's digital photography school. See his instructor bio and list of courses...

Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website -

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also see his Visual Creativity photography blog, and follow Kerry on Facebook.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.

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