Frame composition is as essential element in your photography as the lighting is.
Indeed, it is what constructs the image and narrates the direction and focus point your audience is looking in your work.
How you compose your work depends of course on your practice and the themes you work with.
For example, in landscape photography, the subject and focus point is much broader then in still-life photography.
Which Frame Composition To Use
In portrait photography on the other hand the main element is the person, so how you compose portraiture will also define how the person in the photos is perceived and what elements of the character you decide to bring forward.
There are no distinctive rules on what types of frame composition to use in which photographic practice.
However, some genres use more of the rule of thirds and others use elements such as leading lines. I would say it’s a preference and the choice is always made by the artist.
I will explain the main frame composition elements and address how you can use them in your photography.
1. Centering your subject
The easiest and simplest way to compose a portrait. Centering your subject will give it maximum attention in the image. Whether you’re photographing them from the side or from the front.
This can also be done by cropping the image afterwards, but I like to go by the rule of focusing always on creating images you will have to minimally edit afterwards. In other words; compose your image at the scene and avoid the additional post-production if possible.
2. Look For Shapes
We’re surrounded by plenty of shapes in our environment. These shapes can be organic such as rocks and hills, but also inorganic such as furniture or other objects.
Teaching yourself to see through colors and shapes will further help you to scan for an image while looking at your surroundings.
Having this viewpoint will be a skill many lack; bringing the playfulness and creativity in your daily life.
I’m drawn to strong colors and unusual light, and it’s immediately easier to spot them and build the image around these elements.
3. Rule Of Thirds
You might’ve heard about this rule – most budding photographers use this composition once they learn it.
And not just the budding ones; it’s commonly used in for example landscape photography and publication images since it leaves space to design the rest of the article. Art Directors sometimes add text on top of the image (which I’m not as fond of), so knowing how to shoot images with this element will make it easier for you to produce images specifically for magazines and publications.
The rule of thirds divides your image with two horizontal and two vertical lines that intersect. The viewers’ eyes are naturally drawn to those points, so you should place your subject along with one of the lines or one of the points.
4. Look For Triangles
We can depict an image from multiple points of view.
In fact, the best triangular compositions often don’t immediately present themselves as triangles. Triangles also add visual flow int the images; movement within a composition.
Indeed the direction we choose to photograph from will give us a more flexible space to move and to compose our image. Building triangle shapes with your subject(s) will instantly direct the eye to the desired direction. All you need is three visual points that exist in a somewhat triangular formation.
This formation can be from three different objects or points that connect.
5. Frame Within a Frame
Focus on your subject by using a frame to draw attention to a specific area of your image. Frames can be organic, such as overhanging tree branches, or man-made objects, such as windows.
Some frames are more obvious than others. Unfortunately, more obvious frames tend to be a bit too common in photographic compositions – to the point that they become a cliché.
So instead of using obvious frames, try to find unconventional ways of looking. Try to look for unusual elements you can incorporate into your compositions.
Frames don’t have to be physical; you can always use light and shadow as a frame. Look for areas of contrast that surround what you’re focusing on. Carefully position yourself and your subject to maximize the effect.
Out-of-focus elements can also be used to create frames. When you have an object in the foreground that doesn’t form a complete frame around your subject, simply choose a wide aperture setting and make sure the foreground object is close enough to your camera. You’ll get a rather abstract form that can frame the subject and help lead the viewer’s eye into your picture.
6. Look For Leading Lines
Leading lines are a compositional technique where human-made or natural lines lead the viewer’s eyes through a photograph to the subject or the heart of the image. They can be very noticeable or they can be quite subtle.
This compositional tool helps photographers direct the focus of the photo, create balance, and tell a story with the image.
Leading lines are a compositional element that can be used across all kinds of photography, from portraits to landscape shots.
They can be a road or a line of trees leading you somewhere. They can be people and repetitive objects, like railroad tracks. When using this technique, use the lines to bring the focus to your subject.
As always, the time of day that you shoot photos is important. This is especially true when you go out and find natural leading lines, rather than creating them in the studio. The natural lighting on the lines can impact their strength and mood, and varying shadows can give your images a totally new look.
Leading lines can help you craft interesting, compelling photos. So keep your eyes peeled for lines in your surroundings.
Photography is an ongoing experimentation and a process of finding your own unique style that sets you apart from the rest. Explore to find inspiration and learn from other photographers.
I listed some of my favourite portrait photographers, who always inspire me in my own work.
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