Thursday Tips, or Photography According To Lauren: Framing

Last time I talked about how to use lines in your compositions, and this time I want to talk about framing. Actually I’m not really sure what it’s called but framing is what I’m going to call it. Good composition is all about simplifying your images down to the barest essentials. You don’t want your image to be too busy, and you don’t want your viewer to have to work to figure out what’s going on. You want the experience of looking at your pictures to be a pleasant one, and you don’t want the subject of your picture to have a bunch of stuff coming out of their heads, or to look as though they’re being decapitated by a misplaced line. You can achieve all of this through framing. When I say framing what I mean is that when you take a picture you want to pay attention to your subject, but it is equally important to pay attention to where your subject stands in relation to everything else in the picture. Is the background of your image working for you to make the picture more interesting, or is it working against you to make your image look like a cluttered mess? 

As soon as you train yourself to pay  a bit of attention to framing, getting it right is as simple as moving a little to the left or right, or if your subject is in motion it’s just having the patience to wait for the right moment. The very first image in this post and the above image are two versions of the same thing, but the top one works better, can you see why?

I actually took the lower image first because I was so excited that there was that person hanging out of the window, and I knew it would make for an interesting picture, but I rushed it so I didn’t pay as much attention to the framing as I ought to have. In the bottom picture the ‘To Stonehaven’ sign is coming directly out of that woman’s head, and it makes the image look a litter cluttered. When I took the top picture I moved just a little to the right, and instead of taking away from the image the sign is now working to make the image more interesting. I also framed the woman on the train’s face with the other seat rather than having the sign coming directly out of her face. I waited until the person in the background was doing something a little more interesting than just looking directly at the camera, and THEN I took the picture.

For the rest of these examples my lovely assistant Aidan will be modeling. The above image would be nice except there is a lamp post coming directly out of his head. This is the number one thing that I see people do wrong. Don’t have things coming out of people’s heads. Just don’t do it. Low depth of field won’t save you either. A fuzzy branch coming out of someone’s head is still a branch coming out of someone’s head. Clearly I feel passionately about this.

In this image I just asked Aidan to take a step to the right ,and instead of having a lamp coming out of his head he is nicely framed by columns. Walla!

This picture is kind of interesting, but Aidan gets a bit swallowed up by all the busy stuff going on in the background. The strong line of the wall behind him goes straight through his neck. There are trees, and cars, and buildings coming out of his head.

In this picture I have moved so instead of being abstracted by the background, Aidan pops out agianst the blue sky. In this picture instad of the background distracting from my subject it is adding context to the picture and working to frame him.

There are some nice lines in this picture but they are all intersecting my subject and going straight through his head! Booooo!

This image is much cleaner. By having Aidan step away from the fence he pops out against the uniform background of the pavement, enabling my lines to work for me rather than detracting from the over all composition.

The horror, the horror! (By now you should be able to see everything that is wrong with this picture. It should make you want to stab your computer screen with a fork because it is just so wrong).

Ah, that’s better isn’t it? I got a bit lower and instead of having the building and the grass coming out of Aidan’s head he is framed by it. I also dispensed with the stairs and the railing as they were doing nothing for me.

Here is an interesting example – I saw this nice tunnel and wanted to take a picture of Aidan in front of it. I took the bad one first – just to show you what’s bad. He’s kind of off kilter with the scene, lines are intersecting his head and torso all over the place. The background is working against me rather than working for me.

I thought that if I used the tunnel to frame Aidan that would be it, and granted it is a more interesting picture than the first one. But the background is still a bit busy – it’s competing with Aidan for my attention rather than drawing my attention to Aidan.

So I moved over a bit, and BAM! Aidan pops out strongly against the black of the tunnel, and the background beyond the tunnel adds a bit of context to the picture to make it interesting. See what I mean?

Anyone have anything else to add? Any questions? Do feel free to add your voice to the comments if you’ve got something because like Kirsty says – comments are the life blood.

Pictures of the year are out and they are hella good.

Just to warn you there is nudity but this interview with Christopher Anderson is pretty interesting. I know I’ve mentioned him before but I went back and took another look at his ‘Son’ project and it’s killer. It made me want to move to New York, marry a French woman, and have her parade around naked in front of me and my camera all of the time.

Elanor Callahan died at age 95 this week. Her husband Harry Callahan is one of my favourite photographers. I even own a book of his photographs of her. Check out this tribute, though it doesn’t include my favourite pictures of her which is this one.

Posted in: Uncategorized


  1. Lotte
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Lauren this series is awesome. You explain things so clearly and accessibly for numnuts like me. It makes me want to go and take photos IMMEDIATELY. Please keep these going! x

    • lauren
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      okay, okay. Thank you for saying so though. I really do get a little self-conscious about these posts for some reason.

  2. Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    You probably want to stab my blog with a fork pretty often. 😉

    Wonderfully explained! Thanks so much for doing these.

    • lauren
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      I’m only really fork-stabby when it comes to my own pictures. You are safe from me, promise, x.

  3. Sarah
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    this was really helpful, thank you for doing these posts, I may not always comment but I learn from each one and enjoy them all! 🙂 x

    • lauren
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      aww Sarah. xx

  4. Posted March 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I love you. And I love that Aidan is being such a good sport and modeling for you!!! 🙂

  5. Posted March 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I love this series. I hope to start taking better photos as time goes on.