Using Natural Framing to Guide the Viewer’s Eye

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  By Jennifer Berube
Using Natural Framing to Guide the Viewer’s Eye

When it comes to exceptional photo composition, there are many guidelines and techniques that can be used to draw the viewer’s eye to your subject. Theories of composition, like the Rule of Thirds, leading lines, balancing elements, shaping, viewpoint and framing work well when we can move the subject and change the elements of a scene to sit exactly where we want them to, but the photographer’s eye should be able to see the artistic potential in their natural surroundings.

Photographers don’t often have the opportunity to compose images outside of a studio; meaning, we don’t usually trek in props, lighting, and mass amounts of equipment when we’re out shooting remote landscapes, or even cityscapes. We have to do what we can with what we find.

Most of the time, the elements of a scene are in fixed relationships to each other. While there are many techniques to draw the viewer’s attention to your focal point, one method to focus the view point is to use framing.

Look at the above photo, for example. By using a uniquely shaped and placed tree with some low hanging branches, but not focusing on them, the scene is framed beautifully and the viewer’s eye is drawn to the bridge, which is the subject of the image.

Creative Ways to Use Natural Framing

While it may be considered one of the easier composition techniques in photography, there are advanced and creative ways to use framing to produce award winning shots. It doesn’t have to be about just placing a frame around the subject. You can use more subtle, yet effective, techniques. A successfully framed shot should not only draw the viewer’s attention to the photograph, it should add depth to the picture and place the subject in perspective of the foreground frame. Done right, it will make the photograph much more interesting and invite different reactions from the viewers.

Natural framing is a composition technique where the photographer uses a framing device like tree branches, walls, archways, hills, imposing rock faces, fences or anything in their natural surroundings to create a border or partial border around the subject of the photograph.

When framing up a shot, try to position the subject within a frame to define depth and lead the viewer’s eye to the subject – the image’s focal point. Look at the scene and take the key elements of it that have the most meaning for you, then position them in a way that creates mood and interest and draws attention.

The same scene can change dramatically when a natural frame is added. While the pond in front of the house (above) is itself picturesque, the scene’s mood changes when a frame is included in the foreground (below). The archway not only gives a sense of secrecy, but creates depth.

Natural frames can be a number of objects in any given scene. Once you start recognizing them, you will begin to see them everywhere. Doorways, windows, low hanging branches and fences are just a few objects we encounter on a daily basis, all of which can be used effectively to emphasize your photographic subject. Once you begin to use your imaginative eye to view your surroundings, you will start to see creative and artistic ways to tell your story.

Things to Remember When Framing

There are a couple key points to remember when using the technique:

  • A frame in the foreground of a picture adds point of view. It tells the viewer a story through the perspective of the photographer. Since framing guides the eye to the subject, the technique can be used to draw the viewer’s focus inside the photograph and keep it there.
  • The frame doesn’t need to be sharply focused, in fact, it is almost better for the image if it is out of focus or under-exposed since a detailed frame can be distracting. Remember, you want the focus to be on the subject.

Intelligent composition is key in the creation of a captivating shot. The use of natural framing can be tricky, but if done right, your picture can benefit greatly. A beautifully framed shot gives the photo context, defines a third dimension of depth, and gently guides the eye into the subject in the picture.

Use good judgement when framing a shot, keeping in mind that not every foreground element frames a subject and not every subject is complemented by a frame.

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Before I became Editor-in-Chief of PHLEARN Magazine, I spent over five years specializing in Photography Writing and contributed articles regularly to sites like PictureCorrect, Sleeklens, and PhotoWorkout. Photography has always been a huge passion of mine; I may not be professionally trained in the art, but the knowledge and experience I have gained writing about photography techniques, interviewing some of the biggest and most inspiring photographers out there, and covering industry events has been invaluable!

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