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:

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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.

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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!

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