Natural framing in photography refers to the technique of drawing attention to the subject of your image by blocking other parts of the image with something in the scene. It helps guide the viewer’s eye to the main focal point.
Natural frame photography can enhance your photograph’s depth, composition, and visual interest by providing a “frame within the frame.” Among others, this involves notificing visual patterns and proportions deliberately.
Without further ado, let’s explore some examples of natural framing in photography to better understand its impact on composition and storytelling.
Types of Framing in Photography
In architectural photography, elements such as windows, doors, and archways are often used to create a natural frame for the subject of the image.
For example, below is a photo of an ancient building viewed through an ancient stone archway.
The archway provides a sense of depth and context, clearly distinguishing between the foreground (the archway) and the background (the building in the middle of the frame).
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Natural framing in photography encourages photographers to see the environment with a keen eye for detail, enhancing the subject’s visual appeal by incorporating the beauty and complexity of natural elements.
One common way to achieve framing is through using natural elements like trees and foliage. Branches arching overhead can create a “window” effect that frames a subject in the distance.
Similarly, natural archways formed by rock formations or tree trunks can act as a striking frame. An image of a serene beach viewed through a natural rock arch can create a lovely layering of textures and colors while drawing attention to the framed scene.
Flowers and plants can also be used as delicate, close-up frames. A subject viewed through the gap in a flowerbed or a ring of blooming flowers can produce a whimsical and aesthetically pleasing effect.
Everyday Objects Framing
While architectural elements can offer stunning natural frames, everyday human-made objects can also provide unexpected and visually exciting framing opportunities.
A chain-link fence can offer an interesting texture and grid-like structure, contrasting with the objects it frames and creating a unique composition.
Blurred crowds can also serve as an unusual yet effective frame.
For example, in a photograph of a street performer, the blurred figures of the crowd in the foreground can frame the artist, drawing attention to their performance.
The contrast between the focused subject and the motion-blurred public enhances the effect, reinforcing the importance of the subject in the overall composition. The crowd serves as an organic, dynamic frame, capturing a sense of movement and energy.
Body Parts as Frames
Another inventive way of using natural frames in photography is by adding body parts. Human bodies can provide diverse shapes and perspectives that, when used creatively, can become unique frames for your subjects.
Hands, for example, can be used to create a “viewfinder” effect. Imagine a photograph of a person holding up their hands to form a box, with their fingers touching the corners. Whatever they “frame” within their hands can become the subject of the photo.
Even the simplest postures can form frames. The curve of an arm, the angle of a leg, or the tilt of a head can create spaces that frame a subject.
For instance, a breakdancer’s outstretched arm and leg could frame another dancer in the background, adding depth and complexity to the photo.
Creative Framing Techniques
Doorways, windows, and trees are popular choices for natural frames, but have you ever considered using more unconventional framing elements?
Creative framing can significantly improve your composition. Here’s what I suggest:
Shadows and Light
I think playing with shadows and light can create mesmerizing natural frames. The contrast between illuminated areas and darker spaces naturally draws the viewer’s eyes toward the subject in this ‘light frame’. It’s subtle yet powerful.
Lighting and shadows can be instrumental when combined with natural frames. The time of day, the weather, and the season can all provide a perfect frame for your images.
Examples of photography using natural frames with lights and shadows:
- A leafy tree canopy could cast a complex shadow pattern, creating a naturally framed mosaic of light and shadow on the ground or the subject beneath
- A lighthouse framed by rocky outcrops on an overcast day, its beacon piercing through the fog, providing a striking contrast
- A person standing in a doorway, the light coming from behind them can create a ‘frame’ of light, highlighting their silhouette and adding depth to the image.
Reflective surfaces can serve as an intriguing frame for your subject.
Bodies of water are some of the most common natural framing photography that includes reflections. Whether it’s a calm lake, a city canal, or even a small puddle, water can reflect the world in a unique and often beautiful way.
For example, a cityscape reflected in a river not only frames the city’s architectural beauty but also introduces a sense of serenity and symmetry. Similarly, a stunning sunset can be framed by its reflection on the sea.
Glass is another excellent medium for reflection. An old, narrow street of a European city reflected in a modern glass building can create a compelling juxtaposition between old and new, with the glass facade serving as a frame. Alternatively, a portrait of a person reflected in a mirror can create a double image.
Polished tabletops or shiny surfaces can reflect a subject placed above or beside them, creating an intriguing low-angle perspective. For instance, an image of a coffee cup reflected on a shiny café. A well-polished floor can reflect a grand hall’s chandeliers and intricate ceiling patterns, framing the opulence of the scene.
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Finally, elements like fabric, paper, or food can create unique and playful frames. For instance, a photograph taken through a hole in a leaf, a torn piece of paper, or a slice of Swiss cheese provides an unusual perspective.
You can also layer frames within one single image!
For example, think about a picture taken from a tunnel entrance looking out; the tunnel entrance acts as a first frame, and the exit in the distance acts as a second frame.
Using Depth of Field in Framing
Depth of field (DoF) is a powerful technique you can leverage when using natural frames in photography. By manipulating the DoF, a photographer can either emphasize or downplay the natural frame in a photograph, subsequently shifting the viewer’s focus and altering the image’s overall mood.
A shallow DoF, where the subject is in sharp focus while the frame and the background are blurred, isolates the subject, drawing the viewer’s attention directly to it.
In contrast, a deep DoF, where both the frame and the subject are in focus, gives an image a more complex, layered feel. Consider a scene of a mountain framed by the mouth of a cave; the rough textures of the cave walls juxtaposed with the majestic, distant mountain peak create a rich, intricate tableau.
Pro Tips in Photography Framing
- PRO TIP 1: Using concave shapes when framing draws attention to your eye, because it feels more natural.
- PRO TIP 2: When framing, be mindful of elements that can cut through your subject.
- PRO TIP 3: You can use multiple frames, but your best bet to catch the attention of the viewer is to simplify your image. Do your best to emphasize only the subject and your frame, and avoid using other elements that can clutter the image.
In photography, natural framing is a creative way to add interest and depth to your photography.
I believe this is a technique that every photographer should master – whether you’re using an iPhone to frame or a professional camera. And remember that frames are the basic structure of the image that can amplify its meaning. So, why not give it a try on your next photography outing?
You’ll be surprised at how even the most mundane objects can transform into fascinating frames with a touch of creativity.
And for more creative and technical insights into the world pf photography, visit our other articles on OhMyCamera.