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Mastering Composition: Using Frames Within Frames

beginners composition creative tips Jun 19, 2024

One of the most effective techniques to add depth and interest to your photographs is the use of frames within frames. This composition method involves framing your main subject with natural or man-made elements, guiding the viewer’s eye directly to the focal point and adding depth to your images.


Understanding Frames Within Frames

Frames within frames can be created using a variety of elements in your environment. These could be natural, such as trees or branches, or man-made, like doorways, windows, or arches. The key is to use these elements to create a border around your subject, focusing attention and adding depth to the image.


Why Use Frames Within Frames?

1. Focus: Frames direct the viewer’s eye to the main subject, ensuring it stands out.

2. Depth: Adding a frame creates a sense of depth, making the image more three-dimensional.

3. Context: Frames can provide context or tell a story about the environment around the subject.

4. Visual Interest: They add layers to the image, making it more engaging and complex.


Finding Natural Frames

Natural frames are readily available in outdoor environments and can add a sense of organic beauty to your photographs. Here are some tips on how to find and use natural frames effectively:

Trees and Branches: Position your subject so that they are framed by the arching branches of trees. This can create a beautiful, natural frame that adds a sense of harmony to the image.

Caves and Rock Formations: Use the entrance of a cave or a gap in rock formations to frame your subject, adding a dramatic and adventurous feel to your photo. Remember, the “frame” doesn’t have to completely enclose your subject - it can appear just at the sides of the composition, or one side and the top if it’s maybe a single tree arching up and over your main focal point. The aim is to create “depth” by providing a foreground element that encourages the viewer to look further into your image.


Technical Tips for Natural Frames

Depth of Field: Use a wide aperture (f/2.8 to f/5.6) to blur the frame slightly, keeping the focus on the main subject. This creates a pleasing bokeh effect.

Composition: Apply the rule of thirds, placing the frame off-centre to create a more dynamic composition.

Angle: Experiment with different angles to see how the natural frame interacts with the subject and background.


Using Man-Made Frames

Man-made frames are abundant in urban and architectural photography. They can add a structured and geometric element to your compositions. Here are some examples and tips for using man-made frames:

Windows and Doors: Position your subject within a window or door frame. This not only adds depth but also context to the photo, showing the environment in which the subject is located.

Arches and Bridges: Use the architectural elements of arches or bridges to frame your subject. These structures naturally draw the eye and can add a sense of grandeur or scale to your images.

Fences and Railings: Look for interesting patterns or shapes in fences and railings to use as frames. These can add a textured element to your composition.


Technical Tips for Man-Made Frames

Symmetry and Patterns: Use the symmetry of man-made structures to your advantage. Aligning your subject with the geometric patterns can create a harmonious and balanced composition.

Lighting: Pay attention to the lighting conditions. The interplay of light and shadow on architectural elements can add depth and contrast to your frames.

Perspective: Try shooting from a low or high angle to change the perspective and make the frame more prominent.


Editing Tips

In post-processing, you can enhance the effect of frames within frames by adjusting the contrast and sharpness. Here are some editing tips:

Contrast: Increase the contrast between the frame and the subject to make the subject stand out more.

Vignetting: Apply a slight vignette to darken the edges of the frame, further focusing attention on the subject.

Colour Adjustments: Enhance or mute the colours of the frame to ensure they complement the subject.



Mastering the use of frames within frames can improve your photography by adding depth, focus, and visual interest to your compositions. Whether you’re using natural elements or man-made structures, this technique is versatile and effective in various photography genres. Practice these tips and techniques to unlock your full photographic potential and create stunning, layered images that draw viewers in.


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