Frame Your Subject With These 5 Unbelievably Easy Tips :: Digital Photo Secrets

Frame Your Subject With These 5 Unbelievably Easy Tips

by David Peterson 14 comments

How you frame your subject can make or break a photo. If you put your subject in a place that commands the viewers attention, you’ll immediately have an outstanding photo. This subtle technique is known to many as “composition,” and believe it or not, it has a few simple rules that will give you some stunning results. Try out these 5 unbelievably easy rules for framing your subject, and you’ll see what I mean.

1.) Put your subject anywhere but the center of the frame

Most people are creatures of habit. We’re used to looking at things head on, so we naturally want everything to be in the center. What works for looking at stuff doesn’t necessarily work when you’re capturing it. If you want to get better framing right now, just stop placing your subject in the middle of the frame. Look at the top image for a great example. Nothing is directly in the center, and that makes this image interesting.

Why does this work? It has to do with the path people’s eyes take through the frame. If your subject is somewhere in the center, the eye tends to get stuck there. The eye doesn’t try to move around the rest of the image and explore it. As a result, the image appears uninteresting, even if your subject is very interesting. By simply moving your subject a little to the left or right, you restore the visual balance and improve the framing of your image.

2.) Get closer to your subject

Yep, physically walk up to your subject. That’s the trick. It works because it removes all of the distracting elements in the scene, things like lamp posts and random passersby. Framing an image has as much to do with what you include as what you exclude. If you exclude things that distract your viewer, you immediately help the viewer pay attention to what is important.

3.) Follow the rule of thirds

It doesn’t always work, but it’s one of the most important rules in the book. The rule of thirds states that an image will appear more interesting if your subject is somewhere roughly one third into the frame, either on the left, right, top, or bottom of it. This slight offset helps to draw attention to your subject, giving the viewer more room to wander about the frame.

Something about this spacing works. Don’t ask me why. That’s the magic of the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds works for more reasons than I can mention. The most prominent of those reasons has to do with visual balance and the use of space. Most subjects are the biggest thing in the frame, so the rest of the image needs to balance them out. If you place your subject about a third into the frame, the balance just works. Try it, and you will see what I am talking about.

4.) Give your subject a space to look into

If you’re taking a portrait of a friend, make sure you clear a space for your friend to look into. People who are on the left looking to the right should have an open space on the right and vice versa. Using this sort of framing will make your subject appear more engaged and interested in the surroundings. It also adds an air of mystery to the photo, as your viewer has to guess what’s so worthy of your friend’s attention.

The same thing works in action photography. If a soccer player is kicking a ball toward one end of the field, be sure to include the empty side of the field. This will give the image a sense of motion and direction.

5.) Consider frames within frames

Does your image include windows, glasses, mirrors, or anything else that’s reflective? Make sure you pay attention to what’s being reflected back at you. Sometimes there are some pretty amazing opportunities if you simply pay attention. Make sure the reflection has some kind of meaning, that it’s not just a random assortment of background junk. I often find myself changing the angle of the shot just to get of reflected noise.

You can use reflections to frame the entire shot too!
Here’s a great example.

A frame within a frame need not always be reflective either. An open window is a good example of this. Always consider what’s right outside. And while you’re at it, have a look at some inspiring examples of photography involving reflections. They’ll give you a few ideas of what you can do with reflective surfaces and framing.

Framing is everywhere in photography, and it’s not too hard to master if your remember these five simple rules. Let me know how they’re working for you, and always feel free to send me some of the shot you’re taking.

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  1. Zeny johnson says:

    Thanks for the tips, David. I can't wait to put this into practice.

  2. Robert Benoit says:

    The girl in the frame within is enhanced because her immediate background is flat.

  3. A says:

    Thanks you so much. This was extremely helpful! :D

  4. Gus Gozar says:

    You really educate David. Thanks

  5. Anthony Orr says:

    HI David more great stuff as usual Thanks, I rely enjoy your photography tips, I am about to retire so I will be able to spend all my time with my photography.please keep your emails coming.
    Best Regards Tony

  6. Lawrence Rand says:

    Thank you an interesting read, it seems I'm a rule breaker,this may well put me on the straight and narrow.

  7. Faith says:

    Thankyou for the tips.. It helps a lot..

  8. Deb says:

    Thanks for the tips, as they have really helped to improve my photos.

  9. Deb says:

    Thank you for the tips you provide. I have learnt a lot that really helped to take better photos.

  10. Connie says:

    Thank you! These are very helpful!

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6 minutes
About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.