Friendly Friday,  Photographic techniques

Friendly Friday Challenge: framing your subject

There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs

Ansel Adams

In setting my previous Friendly Friday Challenge about the ‘rule of thirds’, I should perhaps have started with a disclaimer. We talk about the rules of photography but what we really mean are guidelines. Guidelines that help you to create compositions pleasing to the eye; guidelines that help you create impact and draw the viewer in.

The rule of thirds is designed to do just that, but it isn’t a ‘rule’ in the sense that it must be obeyed; and nor are any of the others I plan to discuss in this series.

Using frames

So with that disclaimer, let’s look now at how we can use ‘frames’ to enhance our photos. I’m not talking about actual photo frames of course. No, I mean anything within an image that can be used to frame your main subject and draw attention to it. This could be a man-made structure such as a bridge, arch or fence; it could be a natural feature such as a tree; or could even be human (think of hands clasped around a face).

Frames have various uses when it comes to composition. The most obvious perhaps is that they serve to guide the eye to one main point in a scene or a subject that you want to emphasise. But you can also use them to hide other objects that you don’t want to be seen.

Plus, a frame gives your image depth and perspective. Photography is a two-dimensional art, but a frame can trick the eye into seeing in three dimensions.

And adding a frame can give the viewer more information about where the shot was taken by setting the main subject, perhaps a person, within a context such as a building.

Probably most of you already do this at times, so I’ll be interested to see your examples. Meanwhile, here are a few of mine.

Using trees
White church with deep blue domes

A church in Jelgava, Latvia

This is a classic example of trees adding depth to a subject. Here there are several ‘layers’ of trees, with a foreground branch, another on the right in the middle ground and a line immediately in front of the church.

Large dark red building with white columns

Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn, Estonia

In this example it is the obvious distance between the tree and the building that gives a sense of depth and help to convey the size of the palace.

White house surrounded by bushes and trees

Keats’ House, Hampstead, London

The trees that frame the house help to isolate it and make the whiteness stand out. Although this is London, including the trees tells us that the setting is far from urban. Thus the frame provides context and additional information for the viewer.

Church with square tower in a grassy graveyard

The church in the Cotswold village of Ascott-under-Wychwood, England

Here again the trees help the building stand out from its surroundings and give the image more depth. I could have taken a step forwards to leave them out of the frame but the shot would have probably been less interesting had I done so.

Stone houses on a hill seen through trees

The hilltop village of Serra San Quirico in Italy’s Marche region

You can photograph this village (one of my favourites in the region) in several ways, each illustrating a different aspect of its character. From a distance you see it perched on its hill top, standing out from the surrounding countryside and commanding attention. Close to, you can photograph its narrow streets, creating a sense of intimacy. But I like this view, taken from near the parking area at the foot of the hill. The trees framing the shot help to make the village look isolated, cut off from the surrounding land. And the contrast between deep greens and old stones glowing in the afternoon sun is striking.

Distant view of water and hills, framed by trees

View of the Pacific from the Selda Monteverde hotel, Costa Rica

These trees frame a very distant view and without them the photo would simply look flat and uninteresting! They also add colour, as the landscape itself is rather monotone.

Bare tree in front of a lake with a distant palace

The Jal Mahal on Man Sagar Lake, Jaipur


This image shows that trees don’t have to be green to frame a subject and add that sense of depth. Also, that this technique can work just as well in portrait-format shots as in classic landscape ones.

Using arches

While trees are the most frequently mentioned potential frames for your subjects, arches (whether man-made or natural) work equally as well.

Valley dotted with pine trees seen through a stone arch

Looking out from one of the Gila Cliff caves, New Mexico

As well as framing the vista of the valley below and distant hills, this shot recreates the view the ancients who lived in these caves would have had.

Silhouette of people in front of a white marble domed building

Visitors get their first sight of the Taj Mahal, Agra

Here the silhouettes of the excited tourists combine with the arch of the gateway to create a slightly different image of this much-photographed and iconic building. It’s hard to escape the crowds here, so why not make use of them?!

Looking from an arch to two men at a food stall

A lane in the Southern Medina, Marrakesh


In addition to the arch, the bicycle adds further interest to the foreground and directs the viewer’s eye towards the two men shopping.

Narrow lane lined with stone houses

A typical street in Gubbio, Italy


As well as framing the view of the street, this composition tells us something about the character of this old town.

Other ideas for frames

While trees are often used and arches form an obvious frame, we needn’t limit ourselves to these. Almost anything can serve to frame your shot if you think creatively. So next time you’re out taking photos have a look around your subject and see if you can identify a different way of presenting it, to draw your viewer in with a frame.

Large ruin with towers

Angkor Wat just after sunrise, Cambodia

With the lighting rather flat in the hazy air, including the ruined balustrade and sculpture in the left of my photo provided added interest and framed this wider view of the famous ruins.

The Eiffel Tower from the Pont Alexandre III in Paris

The Eiffel Tower has to be one of the most photographed sights in the world, so why not try to find a different angle? Here I’ve used one of the ornate sculptures on the bridge to frame the view

Man looking out from behind a painting

Artist in the Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile

Using the artist’s easel as a frame not only makes the shot more interesting but also tells the viewer something about him.

Rusty machinery on a pebble beach with an old boat

Rusty old machinery on Dungeness Beach in Kent, England

Your frame doesn’t need to be in focus. In fact a slightly blurred frame can literally focus the viewer’s eye on what lies beyond as well as adding a sense of depth to the shot.

Pebble beach with groynes seen through a window

Whitstable Beach on a dull day, Kent, England


And finally, don’t overlook the obvious! Sometimes a window frame provides the perfect photo frame too. This shot was taken from a café on a day when a hot drink was very much needed.

So now it’s your turn. Please share some ‘framed’ photos from your archives, or maybe get out on a photoshoot and look for frames you can use to add impact to your shots. But don’t overdo it. Like most such devices, if you use frames in every photo they will start to look contrived and monotonous!

Looking back

Thank you to everyone who had a go last time around, sharing your rule of thirds examples and/or challenging me about the need for such a ‘rule’!

Sofia demonstrated the rule with some beautiful flower and architecture shots.

Brian doubled-up with a minimalistic Wordless Wednesday shot.

And Philo’s contribution was also quite minimalistic and delicate.

Sandy explored the impact of different approaches to the same scene and in a second post found an alternative shot she felt fitted the rule better – I agreed!

Cee uses this rule/guideline a lot and it shows in her photos; she had a great selection to illustrate it for this challenge.

Aleta had some lovely examples from the natural world.

Manja wanted to rebel against the ‘rule’ but concluded rightly that it is just the general idea that matters and not precise execution!

Amanda pondered whether you can you apply the rule to a photo of a single object, and demonstrated with a beautiful waterlily that you absolutely can!

And Eklastic gave us an excellent example in her stork photo.

I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us this time!


Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! And please include your name in case WP marks you 'anonymous' - thank you