Creativity Exercise: Using Framing as a Composition Tool

Welcome back for another creative challenge! If you are new to the blog, every month for 2017 I will be posting a creative exercise for you to do.  So if you like the idea of a monthly flex of your photography muscles, come back at the first Tuesday of every month for your assignment.  You can of course do these at ANY time, so at the bottom of this post you will find links to the previous challenges too!

For this month's exercise, we are going to use an often overlooked composition tool - framing. 

Framing your subject is a really powerful way to bring your viewers attention to what’s important in your image, while also bringing an extra little element of interest, so it's a great composition tool to be able to pull out of your back pocket! 

The even better news is it’s really not hard to do, it's only a question of being able to see the possibilities around you when shooting - and that's exactly what this creative exercise will help you do! 

Photography Composition Tips | How to use framing as a composition tool

How do I use Framing? 

It really is as simple as it sounds: you take elements that are already in the frame, such as foreground or background objects, and use them to create a frame around, or partially around, your subject.

If this is your first time using framing as a composition tool, you may be wondering what on earth you can frame your subject with! The good news is that absolutely anything goes,  In short, anything that has an opening, or that you can see through, can be used as a frame.  

I know that's not exactly helpful, so let me give you some more concrete ideas 😃

Remember, these are just SOME examples of how you can use framing,  you really can use anything you like!

Architectural Frames  

Some of the more obvious choices for frames are archways, doorways or windows. These can be found in abundance around your home so they can be a great way to add interest to the frame without having to hunt around too much.  The hardest part about using these types of elements can simply be that you need to back up quite far to get everything into the frame, so a wide angle lens can often be much easier to use. 

For the image below I'm using the 28mm end of a Tamron 28-75mm lens, and I'm still literally squashed in between the wall and my downstairs toilet! Oh, the glamour. 

You are obviously not limited to shooting indoors to use this type of framing - you will find loads of doorways, archways and other framing elements outside too. 

Trees & Bushes

When you are outside, some of the most obvious framing elements will be trees and bushes. 

An obvious choice would be a path lined with trees on either side, or to find somewhere where your subject can sit in between two bushes, but It's important to bear in mind that the framing elements do NOT need to go all the way around your subject in order to frame it.   Even something like having a branch overhang your subject, or a tree trunk in the background (like in the image below) can come together to give you a very subtle frame.  

You might also find that shooting THROUGH leaves or grass will give you some nice framing, and it will help to give your image depth. 

Openings & Shapes

Now we are getting to more random options! I like a bit of randomness, me 😀

Let's start with openings:  wherever you see an opening between two subjects, you can create a frame for your subject. Literally any type of opening can work with this - in this example below I'm simply using the chairs at the table on one side, and the wall on the other to create a frame for my subject. 

Here's another example of a random opening - the gap between some play equipment in the playground. (Playgrounds are a GOLDMINE for framing opportunities!) 

Another thing to watch out for is shapes.  The circular mirror below acts as a frame, but you could also use a square patch of light, or the rectangular back of a chair.  

In this image, the table lamps on either side throw up light into a triangular shape which helps frame my subject. 

Once you start to think about them you will find that there are literally loads of options all around you - both indoors and outdoors - so it is simply a question of firstly being aware of them, and then figuring out how you can use them in your shot! (Oh, and the not inconsiderable feat of getting your subject into the right spot for the frame, and then getting them to stay there whilst you take your shot. If you have a toddler, have fun with that! 😆)

Just as a side note, you may find this easier to do when using a wider angle lens, simply because it allows you to get more in the frame, but you can do this with absolutely any lens.

For those of you who are following along with these challenges, here is your "assignment" for April: 

Your Creativity Exercise Challenge!

For this exercise, I want you to take at least THREE different images that include framing. (Did you think I was going to say one? Not a chance! You have a whole month for this)  

Although you could "manufacture" the frame if you wish, try to find natural instances of framing, in other words, by using something that was there at the time and you didn't have to move into position!

You could also try to mix up where you take the images, for example, one at your home, one in the playground and one in a coffee shop / restaurant.

If you are already quite familiar with framing then set yourself a harder challenge of finding something new and usual to use, or try to make sure that the frame relates to the subject in some way, or adds to the story, rather than just simply being there as a composition tool. 

When you have finished your exercise, I'd also love it if you could share your images on Instagram - use the hashtag #livesnaplove - that way we can all find one another on Instagram too! 

Hope you enjoy this challenge! If you want to see the others in this series, here you go:

January: Photograph A Day In Your Life

February: Take a Photo Essay

March: In the Kitchen