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.

BODIE FRAME  2
BODIE FRAME 2
© 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.




Article by Kerry Drager. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.