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Naturally framing photography is sometimes overlooked as a compositional technique. By taking advantage of natural frames, however, you can add focus and depth to an image.

Photography as a genre is full of techniques to help with composition. Some focus on colour or contrast, others on shape or shadow.

Basic rules like the rule of thirds and leading lines create harmonious imagery to lead the viewer’s eye around an image. Pattern and texture both add a layer of depth and perspective can add a unique viewpoint to a photograph. Composition tells us how to take a photograph and explains why a photograph works the way it does.

Black and white documentary photograph of boys looking out from a train window. Naturally framing photography.

What Is Natural Framing Photography?

As photographers, we are used to seeing the world through the viewfinder which is a frame in itself. Every time we lift the viewfinder to our eye, we evaluate what we include in a shot and what we leave out.

By using zoom, perspective and focus we can hone in on specific areas that we want to highlight within the overall frame of the photograph.

Natural framing photography is creating a photograph within a photograph. By using a physical natural frame as a compositional element, we can create a deliberate focal point in a photograph. This in turn creates intention and narrative.

Keep in mind that the term ‘natural’ in this case points to naturally occurring frames rather than strictly organic subjects in nature. Windows, walls, tree branches, power lines and roads are some of the subjects that can be used as a frame.

Finding Natural Frames

Photography framing makes use of strong design techniques and requires an eye for detail. Having said that, the process involved in photographing a frame within a photograph is fairly simple. But you have to find them first!

The initial step to finding an interesting natural framing photography opportunity is looking. Architectural features are some of the most common natural frames. Look for doors, archways, the sides of buildings or windows.

However, many organic frames can be found in nature too, horizon lines and the ocean’s edge. Try sussing out peepholes in old brick walls or gaps in fences.

But natural frames don’t have to be made of a ‘fixed’ material either. Shadows and light can make for interesting natural frames too. But by relying on the contrast between darkness and highlights, you can create an eerie silhouette or an abstract exploration of form.

The more you look, the better you’ll be at recognising natural framing opportunities around you.

Black and white photograph of silhouettes of buildings. Naturally framing photography.

Photographing Natural Frames

As I mentioned before, finding a natural frame can be the tricky part of this exercise. But there are a few considerations to take into account when taking the shot too.

As a rule, natural frames are usually found in the foreground of a photograph. They lead the viewer’s eye to the subject in the background. However, in photography, rules are made to be broken. A subject leaning on the outer frame of a doorway can work just as well at leading a viewer’s eye to the central character. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little.

Take your focus into consideration too. Determine if you want your frame to be in or out of focus, as the two give very different effects. A sharply focused frame delivers a sense of immediacy or impact. A softly focused frame is more subtle and natural. It blends into the outer edges of the photograph.

A softer frame also adds a greater degree of depth to a photograph.

Think Outside the Box

Keep in mind that your natural frame doesn’t have to be a square with four sides perpendicular to the camera lens. Try using different shapes, perspectives and sizes of frame for different effects.

Close up photo of machinery parts. Naturally framing photography.

A smaller frame lends an atmosphere of intimacy or intrigue. A large frame embraces subject matter, presenting it as an article of importance.

Close up photo of machinery parts with red triangle diagram. Naturally framing photography.

Your natural frame doesn’t have to be a square with four sides perpendicular to the camera lens. This cute little guy is the centre of attention – with the help of natural framing of course!

You don’t need to articulate a subject by surrounding it with a frame from all sides either. Including just the two vertical edges of a door frame is sometimes enough to highlight a subject. The suggestion of a four-sided frame is inherent in the image.

Even a singular line that divides a photograph into two sections can emphasise subject matter. A landscape photograph of a mountain against the blue sky creates a natural frame for example.

Selecting a Subject

Using natural framing in photography can be very transformative. But framing alone won’t transform an uninteresting photograph into an interesting one. In fact, adding the additional layer of a frame to a bad photograph will just add more mess.

To ensure you have an interesting photograph worth framing, consider this first; is your subject interesting without a frame? If your subject holds interest on its own merit then a frame will amplify to the effect. If you have a poor image however, the result will be the reverse.

Cutting Out the Boring Stuff

Even a good photograph sometimes requires a little bit of in-camera editing to look great. You can also use natural framing to obscure parts of a photograph that are superfluous or mundane. For example, you can use framing to cull large swaths of featureless sky.

As an added bonus, this can save editing time on Photoshop later. You won’t have to spend as much time cropping, cloning or airbrushing!

Photographers only have a few precious seconds to catch and keep the eye of a viewer. Cutting off excess visual information with natural frames makes the most of that brief window.

Photo of the silhouettes of people walking through an archway which is naturally framing the photo.

Natural framing is a valuable compositional tool in any photographer’s inventory. It directs a viewer’s eye to the centre of interest in a photograph with speed and efficiency. It also adds narrative and depth to an image, holding a viewer’s attention for longer.

With a little practice, seeking out natural frames for photography composition will become easier. You’ll find yourself using them more and more. You could say it will come…naturally!

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Megan Kennedy

Megan Kennedy is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. A lifelong fascination with flight has inspired her photographic practice in documenting the intricate form of aircraft. Megan is also interested in travel photography and documenting human interaction with the modern landscape, through both intentional and incidental intervention. She is well versed in both digital and film practice. Both her writing and photography is featured regularly in publications online and in print.

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