Nature’s Frames for Photography

You’ve heard me talk on this blog about leading lines and how you can use them to improve your compositions. In a nutshell, leading lines are just natural pathways in a composition that tell the viewer’s eye where to go. A leading line doesn’t have to be a straight line like a fence or a road (though these manage the job quite well). It’s just any strong trail in a composition that the eye naturally wants to follow:


The blue sky, the edge of the clouds, the horizon—lots of lines leading the eye to the house. (Photo credit: Tom Kelly)

Sometimes it’s fun to use a more direct approach when you want to “tell” the viewer where to look, and you can downright demand attention be a given to a certain subject by using natural framing.


No question here where the photographer wants you to look (Photo credit: Ryan Brenizer)

As you can see, natural framing is not just created by Mother Nature. In fact, “natural” is a bit of a misnomer. A natural frame is really anything in the foreground of your composition that forms a border around your subject—whether all the way around it or just some of the way.

Natural frames are everywhere. You can use topiary, doorways, archways, gaps within foliage, mirrors, tunnels, cave openings, and even keyholes! Whatever you use, just remember that the purpose is not just to force attention toward a subject. It’s also to convey depth.

The frame will always be in the foreground, and you can either have it in focus (with a narrow aperture) or blurred (with a larger aperture). Sometimes you don’t have to monkey with the aperture so much as monkey with the manual focus. Just remember that sometimes the frame itself is really the most interesting part of the composition.

Nothing that spectacular beyond the tunnel, but it looks good framed in the tunnel! (Photo credit: Don Shall)

Nothing that spectacular beyond the tunnel, but it looks good framed in the tunnel! (Photo credit: Don Shall)

Natural framing can look forced or be distracting if you’re not careful, so watch yourself and don’t overuse it. Also, nailing the proper depth of field can be tough with these shots. In other words, this is a skill that takes some trial and error. The nice thing is, you can start practicing right now.

Walk out into your yard, take a look around your office, venture down the road, and you’re sure to find natural frames everywhere. Give them a try, and don’t forget to share your images with us when you’ve mastered the technique!


Itty Bitty Prints

People often think that to show off a photograph, the bigger, the better. But that’s not always true. Sometimes, small is good. Sometimes it’s even better than big.

Do you have a wallet-size print you carry around in your wallet? It’s probably a portrait, right? So, you already know that scaling down a print is great for space and portability—easy to carry anywhere, easy to show off when the spirit moves you. A wallet photo is also like little talisman, a miniature something that gives you warm fuzzies whenever you open your billfold. Continue reading

Photographing Objects in Motion

Objects in motion stay in motion. Not for photographers, though. We can stop them in time; hold them still with one click of the shutter. Yet we’re often trying to do it while capturing the sense of movement. For us, objects in motion are memorialized in motion—and can be darn challenging to capture. Continue reading

Photobombing and Change Blindness: When Cameras See More than We Do

Photobomb and Change Blindness with Photography

Ever look through your old snapshots and notice someone hamming it up for the camera, in the background of your shot? Though photobombing has become trendy of late, I suspect it’s been around as long as cameras have.

Photobomb and Change Blindness with Photography

Photo credit:


How fascinating that a whole person can appear within a photographer’s frame without being detected by the human eye. That’s in keeping with what science tells us about how our brains see. That is, we see far less than we think we do. Even when we make a real effort to take in a whole scene, our brains don’t comply. They edit things down. They are selective. They try to figure out what’s most important and piece it together into a whole. In doing so, they miss stuff.

Have you ever heard of change blindness? It’s when you don’t see a change that takes place literally right before your eyes. Magicians capitalize on it all the time. Because of the way the human brain works, change blindness is really common. We all experience it, every day, probably thousands of times a day. You would not believe the things your brain doesn’t see! Example: I recently read about a study where people were asked to count the number of passes a team of basketball players made in a 30-second period. Few of them got the count right, but far fewer of them noticed the man dressed as a gorilla moonwalking through the scene partway through!

Other than psychologists, people didn’t talk much about change blindness until film editing was introduced in movies. That’s when film editors learned that little changes to the background, from one shot to the next, weren’t generally noticed by audiences. So again we come back to what cameras see versus what our brains notice. The two just don’t line up.

What can we as photographers learn from photobombers and change blindness? A lot, I think. We can learn that it’s important to take multiple shots of a given scene. We can learn that it’s important to try different angles. We can learn that it’s totally normal to have trouble with composition outside of a controlled environment, like a studio. We can learn how valuable post-production tools like Photoshop are. We can be reminded our cameras aren’t extensions of our eyes. They have their own eyes! We can try to make them see more like we do, or we can let them capture so much more than we noticed. No need to go only one way either. Playing with what happens between these extremes? That’s more fun than a barrel of photobombers.

Choosing the Right Frame for Your Photograph

I’ve said it many times here that I strongly encourage people to periodically look through their digital albums and bring their favorite images out into the real world. It’s just good to get your best camera work out where you can see, share, and enjoy it. If you’re going with a print—and I want to remind you we can print images up to 40×60 in size—remember that a frame significantly affects the beauty and power of an image.
Some folks believe you should pick a frame specifically to match the room where you’ll display the photograph. I disagree to some extent. Though you don’t want the frame to clash with the room, I think it’s most important, certainly from an artistic viewpoint, to pick a frame that complements the photograph. For example, an art-deco frame might not be the best choice for an image of a rickety rural farmhouse. And not many photos can play well inside ornate, Baroque-style gold frames. In the end, it really is best to get into the store and try out different frames with the actual image. Sometimes unexpected combinations of frames and photographs can produce visually interesting results.

Stores offer no shortage of embellished frames, things with curlicues or flowers or a pattern of plaid. I’m not the biggest fan of these frames. I think they tend to fight with the photographs they contain, almost begging for attention. Remember it’s the photograph you’re trying to show off, not the frame, and a too-busy frame will lead a viewer’s eye right away from your subject. This is not to say you should avoid texture or color. On the contrary, some subtle texture (think reclaimed barn wood around a wedding photo) or a complementing color (think copper metal around a pastoral scene with oranges and purples) can be wonderful. Again, try it before you buy it.

Some interior decorators advise against using frames and mats that are oversized compared with the photographs they contain. I disagree. Part of the fun of matting and framing a photograph can be in playing with proportions. A large frame coupled with a custom-cut mat that leaves but a small opening for a small photograph can actually look pretty amazing. And in some cases, playing with the proportions can even draw the viewer in for a closer look at the image. Take a look at this book cover:

Choosing the right frames for your Photograph

See how the large white mats and contrasting frames around those itty bitty images really do make you want to get closer to see what all the fuss is about?

Remember that a frame isn’t the only way to skin this horse. We can print your exceptional photograph on metal – and we have a special on that service right now! Have you tried a gallery wrap? Gallery wrap is a method of stretching canvas so that it wraps around the sides of (and is secured to) the back of the wooden frame. We offer this service in the store, and though it’s not right for every photograph, we can certainly help you decide whether it’s right for yours!