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How to Use a Frame Within a Frame in Photo Composition

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Using a frame within a frame is a great way to lead your viewers’ eyes into a photo. This can add depth and context, as well as drawing their attention to the subject.

The technique of using a frame within a frame in composition is somewhat underused. As a method of drawing attention to a particular focal point in an image, it can be remarkably effective.

So, how do you frame within a frame in your shots? Keep reading to find out!

Photo of yachts on a waterscape using the branches of a tree as a photographic framing method

What Is Foreground Framing?

Foreground frames are the simplest way of using a frame within a frame in the photo. A photo of a scene with a foreground feature makes for a much more interesting build-up to the subject. In some cases, it can even carry equal weight to the rest of the photo.

Here is one of the many composition tips: choose a part of your scene to be the subject. Then, find a shape within the photo in the foreground that will ‘hold’ it. Below is a simple demonstration of this.

A stone arch framing a castle and mountains in the background

What Is Background Framing?

Foreground framing is an easy and obvious method of using a frame within a frame. However, there are other subtler, more imaginative ways to make this happen. One such technique is background framing.

The most important thing is what I always suggest: think before you shoot.

Have a good look around at what you can and can’t use. Decide how you want to compose your shot. The more you do this, the faster you’ll be and the better your shots will come out.

Below is an example of using a building that forms part of the background. Framing from the background reinforces the subject and leads the eyes in an obvious order.

Photo of a guy with the Hungarian Parliament building, background framing

Leading The Eye

Using a frame within a frame is a great composition tool to lead the eye in a particular direction or towards the subject.

In the image below, the lines along the left upper and right bottom corners encourage the viewer to look towards the centre of the image. The eye is drawn towards the centre of the image before moving outwards.

It isn’t only full frames that do the trick, though. Half frames can be just as effective if done right.

Photo of a volcano with branches framing the foreground

Adding Depth

One of the best reasons to use a frame within a frame is to provide depth. This can be encouraged and accentuated by the use of a shallow depth of field.

Another method to reinforce a sense of depth is by using multiple frames within a photo. You can see this clearly in the image below.

It’s easy to create depth in a photo by using two or more objects (like the door frame below). In addition to the stone ring, the trees along the pathway also serve as a natural, less obvious way of photography framing.

Photo of a park seen through a circular part of a gate in the foreground as a frame within a frame

Paths

So you’ve worked out how to lead the eye using framing in photography and understand a frame’s effect on depth.

It’s now easy to create a path for your eye to be led down, as shown in the image below.

The repeating frames within the frame start to diminish the farther away they get. This is one great way of drawing your eye to a single point.

Photo of a hallway with a view from the window in the back

Finding the Perfect Exposure

From our post on metering modes, you’ll understand how a camera looks at a scene. If it sees a single bright point in the centre, it’s likely to try and expose for that. So, when you use the frame within a frame technique, the frame can be underexposed.

This can have its creative uses but be careful if it’s not the look you’re trying to achieve.

There’s a distinct difference between the overexposed and underexposed areas of the photo. There’s very little which you can do without going into complicated Photoshop techniques.

So, put your camera into manual mode and find an exposure that you’re comfortable with.

Photo of hills shot from inside a cave using frame within a frame composition

Making the Frame an Equal Part of the Photo

If the frame is particularly interesting, don’t neglect it. Use it!

I found this run-down old building in Greece. The window frame was so knackered and full of character that I considered it just as important to the composition as the view through it.

This provides the photo with a sense of location and interest, rather than just a scenic view. It leads the viewer’s eyes to look through the frame of the window, something people are used to doing.

Photo of a greek harbour framed by an old window

Conclusion

Adding a frame within a frame is an easy way to add depth and interest in your image.

Framing photography is a great composition technique as you can use it to guide the viewer’s eye to the subject, following a certain path. If you practice enough, you will soon see frames everywhere!

Looking for more tips on how to elevate your photos to the next level? Check out our course Wow Factor Photography next!

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