Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition

Michael Jenkins gives some tips on correctly composing your photograph

| General Photography

Framing the Image
Words and Pictures by Michael Jenkins

In last month's edition of this series for young and beginning photographers, it was mentioned that you could try to frame your images. Now, I'm not talking about framing them to hang on your wall, but framing your picture within the photograph itself. This technique, which has been used by artists for centuries, can be easier than it sounds and it can add extra depth to your images.

As an example, take a look at this picture of the Visitor Centre at Llyn Llech Owain Country Park in Carmarthenshire. (For those who do not speak Welsh, the "ll" sound is made by forming an "l" then blowing across the side of your tongue.")

Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition: Beginners' Guide to Photography

The picture shows the building on the intersection of thirds, as is suggested and the path breaks up the foreground. Still, it feels like there is something missing. Now, notice what happens just by taking a few steps backward. Look at the next picture of the same scene.

Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition: Beginners' Guide to Photography

The scene is almost exactly the same, but this time the sky is broken up by the overhanging branches. This has the added advantage of closing the gap at the top of the image, stopping the eyes from running up the roof of the building and right out of the picture. It makes you concentrate on the subject. Also, although it could be good to have the overhanging branches in focus, this is not always necessary. Even if they are blurred, you still get a sense of closing in the top of the picture. In addition, don't worry if the branches are silhouetted. They will still be recognised for what they are. Of course, if you want to you could always use fill-in flash to bring out the colour, but that's another story.

So, don't be content with just a basic image of your subject. Look for other angles. Move around the subject. Walk closer and farther away and keep checking the view through the viewfinder.

Finding Frames

Of course, you will not always have overhanging branches to help you. Consider this picture taken at Burry Port Harbour in Llanelli.

Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition: Beginners' Guide to Photography

Again, the picture shows the harbour with all the boats moored, but there is something lacking. Now, not all harbours have trees nearby with conveniently overhanging branches. So, what can you do?

It's amazing what frames we carry around with us. For example, I went to the harbour by car and, as you know, cars have to be equipped with mirrors. Try to park the car so that the scene is reflected in the wing mirror. You can always adjust the mirror slightly to get the right view.

Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition: Beginners' Guide to Photography

Bear in mind, though, that the view will be reversed. I spent some time trying to work out what was wrong with the mirror image!

Framing People and Animals

People are often easier subjects to frame as you can ask them to move their position. Many wedding photographers take advantage of the trees in the local park to frame the happy couple, especially where there are low branches. You could try doing the same. I once took a photo of my children standing inside the trunk of a tree. The tree had been struck by lightning many years ago and the trunk was split in two. As it had grown, the gap had widened so that, by the time we visited, there was enough room for the children to stand inside it.

Alternatively, try taking a portrait of someone standing in a doorway or leaning through a window. You will often see older people leaning on the window sill, looking out at the scene below. Their faces are full of character and you can often catch an expression on their faces that suggests that their thoughts are many miles, or even years away.

Animals, too can benefit from being framed, but you have to wait for them to get into the right position. You also have to be ready to take the picture when it presents itself. In this photograph of a giraffe, the animal happened to be standing in just the right place at just the right time to provide a parallel with the branch of the tree. However, notice how the branch and the tree trunk frame the giraffe.

Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition: Beginners' Guide to Photography

Other Possibilities

There are all sorts of possible frames. Window and door frames have already been mentioned. Sometimes, you can tell something about a person simply by the frame around them. What about market stall owners? Not only will they be surrounded by the frame of the stall, but they will have their wares laid out on a table in front of them. This sort of picture will tell its own story.

Again, you might know someone who is very proud of his new car. Why not take a portrait of him sitting at the wheel, framed by the side window?

People like to stick their heads through all sorts of openings. Look out for such photo opportunities.

Creating Frames

There will be times, though, when you just cannot find a suitable frame.

Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition: Beginners' Guide to Photography

Take this picture of the Upper Lliedi Reservoir, as an example. Although there were branches available, I have deliberately chosen not to include them so as to illustrate the point.

The branches in the foreground hold the attention at the bottom, but at the top of the picture, the eye automatically travels up and out of the image. This is where your image editor can help.

Beginners' Guide to Photography Part 5 - composition: Beginners' Guide to Photography

Drawing a black outline around the image holds the image together, keeping the attention in the frame. Using a copy of your file, experiment with your image editor's border options.

So, look out for different ways to frame your subjects. Such frames will keep your viewer's attention on the picture. They will also add depth to the image as your eye looks from the foreground frame to the background scene and back again.

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