Frame within a frame: composition tricks for adding depth and context

Frame within a frame: composition tricks for adding depth and context

Using a found frame within a frame is a great photo composition trick for filling space and adding depth to an image. In this simple guide we show you how to find your frame within a frame and how to make it work.

Frame within a frame: composition tricks for adding depth and context

Frame within a frame is a simple compositional trick that can prove particularly effective in city and travel photography. Including a natural or man-made aperture such as a gateway, aperture or hole in a hedge in the foreground of your shot creates a distinct border at the edge of your pictures.

One of the attractions of this form of composition is that it allows you to get away from a standard rectangular frame forced on to you by your camera’s sensor.

Using a natural frame allows you to create new inner picture shape. This adds variety to your shots, and often means you can mask out the acres of boring sky or grass that you would otherwise have to include in the frame

Adding the frame in the foreground is also one of the many ways of adding a feeling of depth to your shot, giving a strong suggestion of the third dimension that is missing from a two-dimensional photograph.

How to use a frame within a frame

How to use a frame within a frame: step 1

01 Hunt high and low
Finding natural frames for your pictures can demand a bit of ingenuity, but once you develop an eye for it you will see them everywhere. You will need to change the camera’s height and position to ensure that you can frame the subject well within the frame you find.

 

How to use a frame within a frame: step 2

02 The window view

Manmade apertures are the obvious choice for this effect. Archways, gaps in gates and windows can be found giving views of most places if you are not too far from civilisation. This gate was ideal as it could be angled to frame the castle as perfectly as possible.

 

How to use a frame within a frame: step 3

03 Foreground framing elements
Finding foreground framing elements is a great way of filling areas of empty space in a frame, such as featureless skies or acres of grass. Foliage can work well, and can be found in most places. This hole in a young holly hedge overlooking the keep does the trick here.

 

How to use a frame within a frame: step 4

04 Focus of attention
For this type of photography, we’d recommend using the ‘A’, or aperture priority, mode. This gives you good control over depth of field. With every frame-in-a-frame you shoot, you will need to decide how much of the scene and how much of the foreground you want in focus.

 

How to use a frame within a frame: step 5

05 All looking sharp
It is tempting to always have both the subject and the frame tack-sharp, but this can be tricky to achieve. To maximise depth of field to achieve this you will need a small aperture (f/22 say, as above). Use a tripod, and then focus on a point about a third of the way into the scene.

 

How to use a frame within a frame: step 6

06 Go arty with blur
For handheld shots it is usually expedient to have the frame slightly out of focus to ensure the subject is sharp, accentuating the feeling of depth. A radical alternative is to use a wide aperture (f/3.2 here) and focus on the foreground and keep the subject teasingly blurred.

Final tip

Found frames can be useful for hiding ugly signs, parked trucks and crowds of people, making the technique very useful for city photography – at home or when traveling.

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