Frames within Frames

This article is an expansion of one of the rules that I pointed out in – Composition Rules – Part I. Some of the readers had requested for it so here it is. Catching a viewer’s attention and holding it long enough is one of the basic requirements of any good photograph. Using a frame within frame is an effective technique to do so. Creative use of frames within frames can add depth to the photograph bringing about a three dimensional effect. This technique can empower the subject and draw viewer’s attention to the subject. Sometimes the frames themselves can be the main elements in a photograph.

Bunch of Flowers

Frames can be found everywhere. Anything that adds boundaries to an element or a composition is considered a frame. The much too commonly seen photograph of Taj Mahal, with a silhouette of the entrance gate framing it, is also an example of a frame within a frame.

Taj Mahal

So how does one go about composing with frames? Here are some practical photography exercises that can be attempted to incorporate this technique into your minds. I recommend clicking at least a dozen good photographs with each of the following methods before moving on to the next.


Foreground frames

What interests you in the scene in front of you? Try to analyze what is that element in front of you which attracts you when you are out photographing next time. Once that primary element of interest is clear, find another object in front of it which can be used as a frame to remove everything that is not important from around that primary element. The focus has to be on the primary element and not on the frame. In other words, the frame can be blurred or it can even be just out of focus foreground bokeh surrounding the main element. This is the first simple way to use a frame within a frame.

Qutub Minar

(Qutub Minar at New Delhi, framed in an arch. Nikon D200 with Nikkor 18-35mm lens)

Little girl

(Little Girl. Nikon Df with a 135mm lens)

Background frames

Similar to the above method, the frames can be placed in the background of the main element. These should help the subject stand out from its surroundings. The difference is that when the frames are in the foreground, they help in removing all the distracting elements by covering them up, whereas when the frames are in background, the composition has to be made in such a manner that these distracting elements do not weaken the composition. Anything that does not contribute to a photograph takes something away from it. So compose in a manner so that all these distractions are removed. As suggested earlier, click at least a dozen photographs with this technique before moving on to the next one.

Interestingly, this is something that comes quite naturally even to the snapshooters on vacation, taking photographs of their loved ones in front of various monuments. In professional circles these background frames are difficult to come across due to use of shallow depth of field to bring out the subjects.

Lady and Scarlett

(The lady with her back would not have been so interesting had there been no frames in the background. The Scarlett advertisements in another frame add interest to the photograph. I would have preferred this image to have been clicked just a fraction of second earlier when the lady’s head would fall exactly in a more clearly demarcated frame.)

Repeated frames

Repeated similar looking frames add a feeling of depth. Multiple arches one after the another or photographs across a long corridor with multiple open doors are some examples. Repeated frames quite frequently fill up most of the available space on a photograph. For such a photograph to be effective, try keeping the main subject simple and easily noticeable even in the small size when compared to the frames.

Mysterious lady under the arches


Uncommon frames

Door, windows, arches, mirrors etc are all very common frames. Now comes the interesting part. There are frames to be found every where. Train your eyes to find uncommon frames and then click those photographs.

Frosted Window with Flowers

(Though not an uncommon frame, the window has been used in a way that it acts as a background frame for the flowers in the lower part and a foreground frame for the red shaded of the flowers visible through the frosted glass)


Frames as the main elements

Going a few steps further on the repeated frames scenario, there are times when the frames themselves make up the photograph. The other elements in the composition are just to enhance the beauty of the frames. Frames are the main elements.

Old Arches - Mystery and Intrigue

(Arches from an old church in Goa. The arches themselves are interesting to look at)

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