From lines in nature and urban settings to architectural elements and windows, there are frames around us that you can use to compose your photographs.
The world has many natural frames, waiting for you to use.
— Laura Cook
Last week, photographer Laura Cook shared her insights on visual storytelling and creating single images that tell rich stories. In one of her tips, she suggests: frame your stories. From doors to windows, consider backdrops that add interesting visual lines, shapes, and frames within your images.
I’ve compiled some interpretations of natural frames, using some of my favorite snapshots from my travels.
From traditional doorways to uniquely shaped openings, and massive columns to grand buildings, you’ll find frames — geometric and rounded — everywhere you go, especially as you wander the streets of cities.
Ask your subject to stand in front of a door. Or, open the door and place the person you’re photographing in the middle, or leaning against one side, or sitting on the ground.
Think about the space that’s created in between. Consider the different areas within your frame, created by lines, borders, and shapes. Try capturing someone walking between two columns (or a long hallway of columns, as shown above). Or, frame an object inside two things, or — as seen in the image of Lisbon’s Elevador de Santa Justa above — place a smaller building in between two others.
Arches photograph well, too, with or without subjects underneath them:
You’ll find all kinds of frames in nature and in the wild — from your stroll in the park to your visit to a swimming hole. Look for leaves and plants draped over a scene, which might make an image more interesting:
Or pay attention to lines and curves in branches and tree trunks, which double as borders and points of reference for a variety of photographs:
In addition to flora, look out for slopes and hills as lines to frame and guide your shots. Or even rock formations, which can frame your images in awesome ways:
Windows and mirrors
Fun with windows and mirrors: Find inspiration in previous photo challenges, like Jared Bramblett’s guest challenge “Reflections” and my “Window” challenge. See how other bloggers have used these objects in their photographs.
While wandering in my travels, I’ve always looked out for windows and mirrors as surfaces to record my reflections, even before selfies became A Thing. From closed and open windows to mirrors of all types and sizes, these are simple objects that help to frame your shots, as well as add a layer of complexity to them.
I took the following photograph from the penthouse of a building just minutes away from Trafalgar Square in London. While I could have poked my head out the window to grab a cleaner, windowpane-free shot, including the frame offers a distinct point of view — and adds more depth to the image:
The viewer then wonders: who took this shot? Who lives in this building, so close to this famous square? What does this room, from where the photographer stands, look like? By including this window detail, we’ve created a story.
Consider, too, this reflection shot, taken in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon:
Fun with reflections: The older Mirror Project is an archive of images created with reflective surfaces. Think beyond mirrors as well, from sunglasses to pools of water, and how these objects’ edges can act as frames.
Look for mirrors — on the street, in public washrooms, on restaurant walls, and other random surfaces — and think about how to use them in a photograph. In the shot above, I included the bottom curve of the mirror as a way to frame my self-portrait, and offering more context creates a more visually attractive photograph. (The snippet of the blue arrow sign at the very bottom is a nice touch, too.)
While square and rectangular windows and mirrors create cool effects, I personally love circular ones.
From the yellow lines dividing the left and right sides of a road, to train tracks on a platform, to patterns on skyscrapers, lines are everywhere. They can be straight. Or curvy. Or crisscrossed. Or zigzagged.
Consider the movement of lines. Follow and trace where they go. Visualize what spaces they create. In the picture below, I captured a nearby felucca in between the bars of our own felucca, while sailing on the Nile River in Cairo one evening.
While I could have moved to the other edge of our boat and taken the photo, bar-free, I wanted to use these lines to compose my shot, frame my subject, and make a more unique image.
Finally, you can also frame your subject with nothing. Or, another way of putting it: use the open space around you to isolate your subject, like a blanket of blue sky. Or a clear, turquoise sea. Here, I’ve used both sky and sea as breathing space, framing this solitary man on a rock, just off the shore of Cala Tarida in Ibiza, Spain:
A frame doesn’t have to be something thin or square, or even tangible! Think about the word “frame” in different ways. You’ll discover that many other things — including open space — can act as a compositional tool.