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Use a Frame Within a Frame to Add Depth and Context to a Photo

Related course: Photography for Beginners

Why You Should Use a Frame within a Frame

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 a defined point.
A photo of a scene with a foreground feature makes for a much more interesting build up to the main region of a photo. In some cases, it can even carry equal weight to the rest of the photo.

Foreground Frames

The technique of framing within a frame is somewhat underused. As a method of drawing attention to a particular point in an image, it can be remarkably effective.
The idea is to choose part of your scene to be the subject, then find a shape within the photo (usually in the foreground) that will ‘hold’ it. Here’s the simplest way of demonstrating this below.
Photo of lady walking through a tunnel

Background Frames

Foreground frames are the simplest way of using a frame within the frame of the photo.
There are other subtler, more imaginative ways to do this too.
The most important thing is what I always suggest: think before you shoot.
Have a good look around at what can and can’t be used and 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 multiple frames in a shot that form part of the background. Framing from the background reinforces the subject and leads the eyes in an obvious order.
Here, the empty frames balance the rest of the photo.
Photo of a flower surrounded by a ruined building

Leading The Eye

Frames are great at leading the eye in a particular direction or towards the subject. Half frames can be just as effective at this as full frames, as in the photo below.
The lines along the left and bottom encourage your eyes towards the center of the image. At the same time, the vertical line converging with the diagonal gives you direction.
The eye is drawn towards the center of the image before working its way outwards.
Photo of some vines with a shallow depth of field

Depth

One of the best reasons to use a frame is to provides depth. This can be encouraged and accentuated by use of a shallow depth of field, as in the photo above.
Another way to reinforce a sense of depth is by repetition. You can see this clearly in the photo below.
It’s easy to create depth in a photo by using two or more objects (like the door frames below) that we know to be the same height. They key is to place one farther away than the other.
As we well know, this makes the object appear smaller, which provides us with a sense of depth.
Photo of some doorways in an old abandoned building

Paths

So you’ve worked out how to lead the eye using frames 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 photo below.
The repeating frames start to diminish the farther away they get. This is a great way of drawing your eye to a single point.
Archway at the central station in Washington DC

Exposure

If you’ve read my post on metering modes, you’ll understand how a camera looks at a scene. If it sees a single bright point in the center, it’s likely to try and expose for that, resulting in the frame appearing underexposed.
This can have its creative uses but be careful if it’s not the look you’re trying to achieve, like in the photo below.
There’s a distinct difference between the overexposed and underexposed areas of the photo. There’s very little to be done about it without going into complicated Photoshop techniques.
Put your camera into manual mode and find an exposure that you’re comfortable with.
Photo of a hallway with an open door

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 as the view through it.
This provides the photo with a sense of location and interest, rather then just a scenic view. It leads the viewer’s eyes to look through the window, something people are used to doing.
Photo of a greek harbour through an old window

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1 comment
  1. Thank you for a beautifully simple explanation of what must be a complicated feature of photographic technique. One also realises that you work very hard to pass on what you have learnt. Is it a mission?! My parents were both photographers, my father a pioneering cinematographer, but we remained sadly illiterate about this art. Fortunately the younger generation – my son ( and my nephews) are quite good, and a nephew’s son and daughter in Rome has started taking fabulous photographs. It may even be in the blood!

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