17 Examples of Natural Frames :: Digital Photo Secrets

17 Examples of Natural Frames

by David Peterson 7 comments

Natural frames are everywhere, and not just in natural places. In photography, a natural frame is anything that forms a border or part of a border around your subject. It can be literally natural, such as a tree branch, the mouth of a cave or a rock arch; or it can be man-made, such as a doorway, a bridge or the slats in a fence.

Finding natural arches is a fun and rewarding challenge, and using them in your photos can help draw your viewer's eye into your image and create a sense of depth and importance. Just in case you need a creative jump-start in your search for natural frames, here are 17 examples of frames--the type you can't buy at your local craft store.


Man-made arches don't necessarily have to be stone or wood. Visit a topiary garden and see how many natural frames you can find in the meticulously trimmed and trained hedges. In this type of setting, frames won't be limited to just arches; you will also be able to find them by carefully angling your camera so that topiary walls and other shapes become effective partial frames.

Wooden Doorways

Any doorway can make a good natural frame, from your front door to one like this: an old, weathered door in an abandoned or decaying place such as an old barn or outbuilding. Wood works particularly well if combining an old wood frame with a new subject in the frame.

Stone Arches and Columns

Beautiful architectural sites will almost always contain natural frames, and they are often in beautiful settings as well. When visiting these places, make sure you don't get lost trying to photograph the architecture for its own sake. Seek out and look through these archways and see if you can use them to frame something striking in the distance, such as a green landscape or a stormy sky.

Trees and Tree Branches

Wood makes great frames, and not just the kinds of frames you buy at the store, either. Any place where there is trees will also have natural frames. Look for tree trunks that have branching arms and canopies of leaves, and use them to frame other objects or even other trees (particularly those that are strikingly different from your frame).

Flowers and Flowering Trees

Flowers are a colorful way to frame your image, but remember to avoid choosing flowers that will overwhelm your subject. This beautiful cherry tree adds a lot of color to the image, but the gazebo in the background is still interesting because it is in a misty setting that provides contrast to the colorful tree.


While it may be a big challenge to frame a seagull in a knothole, you can still use these natural flaws in old wood to frame an interesting subject. It may be difficult to keep your subject and the wood in focus, but the knothole can still make an interesting vignetting effect.

Living Things

Groups of animals can gather in interesting formations, as in this photo of a school of fish shot from below. In this image, the photographer angled himself in such a way that the sun shining down through the water was framed by the fish, which were swimming in a circular pattern.

The Sun

Instead of using the animals to frame the sun, this image uses the sun to frame the animal. The halo effect created by angling the camera so that the turtle is just in front of the sun creates a natural frame that has no actual physical form.

Pattern as Frame

In this image, there isn't a single object forming a frame, but rather a group of objects that make a pattern. Because the fish breaks the pattern, it becomes the subject and the pattern becomes a frame.


The tree roots framing this ancient Buddhist temple aren't something you're likely to happen upon in just any forest, but if you spend enough time in wild places you may be able to find similar exposed roots that can double as natural frames.

Natural Rock Arches

Utah is full of naturally-occurring rock arches, such as those in Arches National Park and in Bryce Canyon. But rock arches can be found in other places, too, especially beaches and shorelines. They don't have to be huge and impressive to make a beautiful photo, either - look for smaller rock arches, too.

Body Parts

In the absence of a found frame, you could ask your subject to create her own natural frame with her arms or hands. You can even achieve this affect without posing - ballerina dancers, for example, create natural frames as they perform.


A window makes a beautiful natural frame for a subject shot either from the front or the back. A frame such as the one above gives your viewer a sense of intrigue - your subject seems confined within the frame she is looking out of, so the viewer naturally wonders what is on the other side.


A mirror makes a great composition because it is essentially two photos in one--the scene in the mirror and the scene outside of the mirror. Like windows, mirrors create intrigue because they make your viewer wonder what happening off-frame.


Frost makes beautiful patterns on glass, creating a sort of "window within a window." You can get a similar effect through a foggy window, by wiping off some of the fog and shooting through the clear spot.


Frames do not need to be vertical. This footpath creates a partial frame around the hedge garden. Sometimes you can make very effective paths from a simple horizontal surface.


When photographing people - especially exploring people - look out for narrow gaps between trees or other obstacles that your subjects may have to navigate to get from point A to point B. Playgrounds with tunnels or climbing structures are also good examples of this type of frame.

Natural frames are fun to seek out and are really a very simple way to create a great photo. Try looking at every scene for the presence of a natural frame - and although there won't always be one remember too that they won't always be obvious. The key is to change your angle, think small as well as big, and take shots even when you're not sure they'll be successful. When shooting natural frames, the chances are pretty good you'll be happy with your results more often than not.

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  1. Kiara says:

    This is amazing! Well done on the photographs, especially the Frost one! :-)

  2. Darryl Lora says:

    Well David, once again I have spent over an hour reading your great tips. I do try to just read 1 or 2 tips, but as usual, once I start I cannot stop till I have read them all! Seriously good tips and tricks....please keep them rolling. Best regards for your future. Darryl

  3. Francisco Cabrita says:

    Thank you ! Brilliant information
    Merry Christmas Happy New Year

  4. Nilda says:

    David I never tire of your tutorials,I have learnt so much and I feel so confident since I started your tutorials.

    Thank you so much

  5. Rob says:

    When using frames is it normal to have the frame in focus or is it acceptable to have the frame out of focus (DoF)

  6. linda says:

    Thank you ! Brilliant information...

  7. Johanna says:

    Fantastic, I have learn't so much from reading you mails, but, the thing I use most is my brain. I now look at my subjects in a different light. Thank you so much.

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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+.