Framing and composition are two of the most important concepts budding photographers need to fully understand to become better. But like any medicine they can also be boring, rigid, and creatively stifling if taught in the wrong way. Within the post the hope is to provide you with some simple photography tips to help frame and compose your shots for maximum impact, sans the ‘Ben Stein’ voice.
The Difference Between Framing And Composition
It would be wise to clear up a common misconception relating to framing versus composition, because the two are often used interchangeably, though one isn’t synonymous with the other. Framing refers to the physical placement of the camera; In other words, where you, as the photographer, have decided to stand and point your camera, and in what angle and so on. On the other hand, composition refers to the arrangement of all elements within your scene. If you imagine somebody photographing the room you are sat in now. The placement and direction the camera is pointed dictates the framing, and the way they arrange the items in the room will dictate the composition.
It’s not necessarily important to know this, the terminology won’t affect your photos and it’s probably something you’ll do naturally. However, it is useful to understand the lingo so you can fully comprehend photographic discussion. In actual fact, the same can be said for many principles concerned with framing, composition and what attracts the eye. You probably know a lot about them already but it’s helpful to pin them down so you can create repeatable results.
Simple Photography Tip Number 1 | The Rule Of Thirds
This tip is about as simple as a simple photography tip can get. The rule of thirds is an excellent starting point for beginners because of its simplicity. Sadly, that is also it’s downfall, but we’ll come to that in a minute. First, I’d like you to watch the following video from DNews, which will explain the rule of thirds, as well as a couple other methods.
As you can see, there are many different mathematical methods for dividing up our scene which will supposedly result in the perfect composition and framing. Unfortunately, these techniques, while useful and necessary to know, are also boring and potentially stifling. It’s very easy to get bogged down by these principles and suffocate your creativity. They are, however, important to know, and hence, a good starting point for us here. If you’d like to read more about this and much more, take a look at “The Photographers Eye” by Michael Freeman, click here.
Why am I recommending the rule of thirds here then? Any beginner can instantly get their head around it and it gets you thinking about some fundamental principles. Number one, dividing your frame for maximum impact, and number two, the placement of your subject. By all means, begin your journey sticking to this rule but always know, in the back of your mind, that there is more. The rule of thirds is an exceptionally simplified concept which you should grow from, and not stop at.
Simple Photography Tip Number 2 | The Frame Within A Frame
Another simple technique to help you frame the perfect photo is the frame within a frame, and it’s used everywhere. It can be cheesy and clichéd, but used well, it can draw the viewer’s eye exactly where you want.
Now that you’re aware of it you’ll begin to see it all over the place; TV, Films and, of course, photography. The most obvious method which you will see within photography is a very literal interpretation, typically, a couple holding a frame. The basic concept is incredibly simple and does not need to be as literal as the example just given.
The photo above does an excellent job of utilizing this method in a more subtle but direct way; Using one of the windows on a boat we are immediately drawn to the couple. Again, however, that example is quite an in-your-face version of the technique. If you keep an eye out for it, you’ll notice there are also very subtle methods for employing the same basic principle with converging lines.
Simple Photography Tip Number 3 | Shapes
A very common technique used by experienced photographers is to take advantage of certain things that we, as humans, are drawn to. Luckily for portrait photographers, one of those things is faces; our eyes will naturally hunt out and fin faces within a scene. Another, is shapes. We’ve already heard from the video above that repetitive, geometric shapes, which can be represented by some exceptionally boring mathematical equation (hands up who switched off at that point), are pleasing to our eyes. Imagine a winding staircase with your subject at the bottom / top. Other shapes, such as circles, triangles and squares also attract our attention and are naturally pleasing to the eye.
In the photo above, can you see the triangular shape created on the right hand side which leads your eye straight to the Nike logo on the tongue? The placement of the light painted lines on the background was no happy accident, they were arranged in such a way to emphasize the shoe, by moving and guiding the viewer’s eye, using multiples methods, around the frame.
Shapes within your photos don’t have to be obvious, but by keeping the concept in your mind you can create compositions which are more pleasing to the viewer. For example, a classic use would be within portraits. If you are arranging a group portrait, try to arrange your subjects so the heads produce triangles.
Simple Photography Tip Number 4 | Colors And Contrast
This has to be one of my favourite compositional techniques. I’ve found it comes the most naturally to me and perhaps you will find the same. Essentially, if we understand that aeas of contrast and color draw our eye we can manipulate this to move our viewer around our images. We can place our subjects in the brightest part of the scene or have their clothing compliment or juxtapose the environment. There are all sorts of ways you can use these two ideas to make compositional decisions within your photos.
Take the photo above; it is designed to draw in the viewer’s gaze and highlight the product using these two concepts, and notice the black background and bright centre immediately draw your eye in. The colors of both the lights and swipes match the accents on the bottle, but also serve to further highlight the product through color. If you removed the swipes the product would stand out far less.
Simple Photography Tip Number 5 | Breaking The Rules
This is not a rule in and of itself. Rather a personal and professional now. Rules can be helpful but also destructive when describing composition and framing principles. Guidelines, is a much nicer way of thinking of it. It is important to know these and the many other, more complex ‘guidelines’ , however, it is not necessary for you to run through a seemingly never-ending number of concepts and mathematical framing guidelines before you click that shutter. As you become more experienced, you’ll come to realise what works and what doesn’t. You’ll then begin to produce images more from instinct. A far more creative and enjoyable place.
For a longer, more in depth course, which I would recommend to every beginner, take a look at Photography 101. It covers so many topics which are vital for every amateur photographer to grasp. Check it out in the SLR Lounge Store, click here.