How to Use Framing in Photography to Create Powerful Images

With creative composition, you can take your photos from snapshots to works of art. One trick that’s sure to make your images stand out is framing.

What is Framing?

Framing is a photography compositional technique that isolates a subject using elements within a scene as a frame. For example, you might place your subject so that they’re surrounded by a tunnel, a window, or leafy branches. In other words, it’s including a frame within your frame to direct the viewer’s eye to your subject.

While the concept is sometimes taken quite literally, with an actual photo frame introduced into the image, frames can be created from just about anything—nature, architecture, color, light. The list goes on.

An example of framing in photography where a cloud is framed through a tube.

Photo by Sharosh Rajasekher

Why Use Framing?

There are a number of reasons to incorporate framing into your photography. Let’s explore…

1. Direct the Viewer’s Eye to Your Subject

All rules of composition are meant to help an artist control where someone’s eye goes when they look at the artwork. And framing does just that. It isolates and emphasizes your subject.

Lead viewer to your subject using frames

2. Provide Context

By framing a subject with relevant elements in a scene, you develop a story. For example, using piles of books to direct attention to a shop owner instantly turns an ordinary headshot into an environmental portrait. Branches of cherry blossoms bordering your subject tell us that it’s spring.

a girl posing between cherry blossom branches
Framing helps you give context to your photography

3. Create Depth

Framing is one way to add layers to your photo, which tends to create a three-dimensional feeling. Using foreground elements as a frame gives a picture more depth from front to back.

A man walks between two railway cabins on a train.

Framing helps you create a sense of depth in your images. Photo by Frederik Trovatten

Framing Ideas

Your imagination is the only limit when it comes to what you use as a frame. Here are some examples you can try.

Nature

Use foliage, flowers, rocks formations, or branches to bring attention to your subject and highlight the location.

a man walking in a snow covered path covered by trees. The subject is framed using the tree branches.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul

Architecture

Doors, windows, arches, and columns give you tons of options for putting a frame around your focal point.

A wedding couple photographed through a broken window which helps to frame the couple.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Light and Shadow

Frames can be more abstract, too. Look for a patch of light or interesting shadows to surround your subject. Light works particularly well for emphasizing a subject since our eyes are drawn to the brightest part of a photo.

A glass vase on a table top which is nicely framed by shadows and light through a window.

Photo by Jez Timms

Environmental Objects

Use objects in the scene to provide both a frame and context. For instance, the coffee bar and curtains in the image below give us a sense of setting.


Photo by Krists Luhaers

Props

Can’t find a frame? Make your own with a mirror, a ring, or anything else you have with you.


Photo by Ali Marel

How to Frame a Shot

Decide where you want to lead your viewer’s eye. What or who is your subject? A frame without something interesting in it doesn’t usually add anything to an image.

Look for a frame or make one. Is there a natural frame? Or do you need to use a prop or change location?

Consider your camera settings. Is the frame an important element that you want your audience to see or a distraction? Choose your aperture based on whether or not you want your frame to be in focus.


Photo by Jeff Nissen

Advanced Framing Techniques

Once you’ve got the hang of framing your subjects, consider taking it a step further.

Moving Frames

Don’t limit frames to stationary objects. Waiting for cars or other moving things to fall into place to frame your subject can create a one-of-a-kind moment.

A street musician is framed through passing pedestrians.

Wait for moving people or objects to form a frame around your subect. Photo by María Julia Martínez

Multiple Frames

There’s no reason to stop at just one frame. Put one frame inside another to really pinpoint your focal point. Combining types of frames emphasizes a subject even more.

A man standing in the middle of a movie theater.
The subject is framed by the section of seats, the two doors, and the backlight. Photo by Angel Origgi

Not every photo lends itself to framing. But when used creatively and with purpose, framing can take your photography to new levels.

Over to you

Please have a go at this photography compositional tool. We would love to see your photos in the comments section below!

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