Filling the Frame
Words and Pictures by Michael Jenkins
This column is all about helping young and beginning photographers to take better pictures, regardless of the camera you use. The best way to learn, of course, is to take lots of photographs then learn from your mistakes. However, the cost of film and developing can make this difficult, especially for the young photographer. So, in this column, we hope to help you to get more from your film.
Getting more from your film does not mean simply taking more good pictures. It includes using each frame to the best advantage. For example, how often have you taken a photograph of a subject, only to find, when you collected your prints, that the subject is rather small in the frame and there is a lot of wasted space around your subject? That's why it is important to fill the frame.
Consider this picture of the footbridge at the beginning of the Millennium Coastal Path in Llanelli, South Wales.
Sometimes we capture too much of a scene and our subject is too small with too much space around it.
Although it's not a bad photo, it does have some problems. Apart from the obvious distraction caused by the power cables, there is a lot of empty space, especially at the top left. It has some human interest, which helps to take the eyes away from the problems, but it could be better.
When you are out with your camera, remember that we live in a four dimensional world. Four? Yes. We can look left and right, up and down, forward and backward, and, as science fiction fans know, the fourth dimension is time. To obtain this next picture of the same bridge, I used all of these dimensions.
Move around your subject, look for unusual angles and try different times of day.
I crossed the bridge in the afternoon, then I had to cross it from the other direction to get back to the car. Doing so, I noticed the difference in the view without the power cables. I also noticed the graphic qualities of the angles. Still, there was something missing and I realised that the sky was too bright.
1) I returned later that evening. Evening light is much better than in the early afternoon. 2) I crossed the bridge again, and turned to look behind me. 3) I moved to the right so that I was in the centre of the bridge. 4) I kneeled down to get a lower viewpoint.
The result is a more interesting, more graphic view of the same subject. There is a better colour in the sky and better contrast between the various tones.
Notice that I haven't mentioned special lenses. You don't need them. They can help, but they are not essential. You could take these photos with any camera.
This second picture of the bridge also highlights another aspect of composition. When it comes to filling the frame, it is often possible to introduce symmetry. The picture of Macroom Castle in Ireland, shown below, is a further example of this.
Filling the frame often presents opportunities to use symmetrical compositions.
Notice how the castle fills the frame. The empty space in front of the wall is filled with the canon and the flower beds. (The flowers hadn't grown at the time I took this shot.) The architect knew how to use symmetry. You can use this to your advantage. Actually, this picture is slightly off-centre, but the road was rather busy and I had no real desire to get knocked down just to achieve perfect symmetry.
I used the zoom lens on my digital camera to help me get the effect I wanted, but again, this picture could have been taken with any camera. If I had captured a little too much of the scene, I knew I could always crop the print later.
To get the right composition, you may need to move your position. If you have more than a basic camera, of course, you can achieve the same effect from the same place. A zoom lens can allow you to stand at a convenient spot and adjust the amount of the scene you want to record without any walking, as I did in the castle picture above.
Even so, don't worry if your camera has no adjustments. This picture of two rowing boats could have been taken with a basic camera.
Even a simple camera can be used to fill the frame.
To fill the frame with these boats, all I had to do was walk forward or back a few steps.
Beyond the Basics
A macro, or close up, lens allows you even more scope. This picture of a dried seed head was taken with the macro option set on my digital camera.
Using a macro lens can be beneficial.
Notice that, although there is a lot of blank space around the seed head, it is needed here in order to balance the composition. Setting the subject at an angle helps to fill the frame.
For those who may want to try something similar, this picture was taken with natural light from a patio door. The background is black velvet which photographs as a matt black and contrasts beautifully with the seed head.
Finally, a word about cropping your photos. Obviously, circular subjects will not fill a rectangular frame. However, they can benefit from being cropped to a square.
It may be necessary to crop the picture to fill the frame.
Again, I used the macro option to take this photograph. As you can imagine, there was a lot of empty space at the sides of the frame. In this situation, you have to fill the frame to two edges and crop the print afterward. Alternatively, I'm just looking at a print I made purely for reference whilst writing this article. Although it was a square picture, my software cropped it to a rectangle, taking the edges off two sides of the dandelion head and it has become a very graphic image.
You may be concerned when you read in your camera's manual that the viewfinder only shows 80-90% of what is recorded on the film. Don't let this worry you when you are filling the frame. Commercial printing only prints 80-90% of the frame anyway, so it is almost a case of getting what you see. If the printing process crops the picture too tightly, ask your processor to print it again. If you have a good relationship with him, you might even get it done free of charge.
So, don't waste film, not even within a single frame. Fill the frame with your subject, and you will be on your way to making, and taking better pictures.