Photography Technique

What Is Framing in Photography? How and When to Use It

Photography is a powerful medium to tell stories, capture moments, freeze time, and showcase memories. And certain rules and techniques can help you make a good photo great.


Framing is one technique that uses either natural or artificial elements in the photograph to focus on a particular subject. It guides a viewer’s attention to your subject and tells a story through your image simultaneously. Let’s explore what framing is, and how and when to use it.

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What Is Framing in Photography?

Framing in photography refers to the composition style of using natural or artificial elements to create a visual frame inside your image. The technique helps you focus viewers’ attention on your subject while adding depth, context, and a story to your image. There are different methods to use framing in a photograph.

Natural Frame

framing composition using rocks as frame

When shooting in a natural environment like a forest, lake, path, or river, you can use the naturally available elements as your frame. For instance, you can use trees, leaves, bushes, and rocks to create your frame.

In this situation, your subject will be the center of attention, and the natural elements like trees and rocks can block two or more edges of your image to create a frame. If you’d like to give this a shot, see our guide on how to get started with nature photography.

Architectural Frame

a stone window as architectural frame

Using architectural elements to create a frame is very common among urban photographers. You can use a window, buildings, fences, and walls to create a frame for your photograph.

This type of frame is most commonly used when taking photos of cities. However, you can also use an architectural frame to capture images of humans, objects, or nature.

Geometric Shapes

car mirror as geometric shape frame

Squares, triangles, and circles are common shapes in our environment. You can either use the shapes available to you or artificially create one to give depth to your image.

For instance, you can use your hands to create a heart shape and use it as a frame for your photograph. Similarly, you can use a circular mirror and place your subject in the reflection to create a stunning photograph.

Light and Shadows

using spotlight for light and shadow framing composition

Light and shadows are the unconventional yet appreciable way of making frames in your photo. This method uses lights like streetlamps, candles, or torches to create a frame. It works best in night photography.

Similarly, you can click a portrait with a spotlight on the subject and darkness in the remaining part of the composition—the light will create a circular frame.

When to Use Framing in a Photo

There is no right or wrong way of using the framing composition style in your photographs. However, if done incorrectly, it can divert the viewers’ attention from the subject, rendering the technique ineffective. Therefore, it is essential to understand when to use the framing technique, and when not to.

One simple rule is that if the photograph looks good as it is, there is no need to add frames forcefully. It might suffocate the image, making it look bulky or cluttered. Similarly, if you are already using any other composition style, adding a frame to it might ruin the effect.

However, using two compositions in a single photo has always been a healthy debate among photographers—it all comes down to trusting your gut. Here are some sure ways to know that framing will make your photographs look better.

Telling a Story

The framing technique can be a game changer when you are keen on telling a story through your photograph. A story can be the portrayal of emotions, combining conflicting ideas, and many other similar concepts.

airplane-framed-by-buildings

For example, the above image uses buildings as a frame, and the subject is an airplane. It might represent freedom from corporate life.

Eliminating Chaos

If there is chaos in the image, framing can effectively bring viewers’ attention to the subject. One example is clicking a photograph in a crowd. A crowdy place has too many environmental elements that can draw attention away from the subject. In such cases, you can use a frame in your photograph to bring attention to your subject.

Showing Perspective

The framing technique is the best composition style when it comes to showing perspective. It helps show the viewers your perspective of the environment. For instance, a landscape view from within a room where you can use a window or door as a frame shows your view of the world.

using smartphone as a frame

Another common way is using a phone or camera as a frame, and the subject appears on the screen. It shows the perspective of the person taking the photo.

How to Use Framing in Photography

To successfully use the framing technique, consider the following points.

  • Identify the subject: The elementary part of using the framing technique is always keeping your subject and not the frame in focus. Identify your subject as well as the less important parts of the photo.
  • Identify the framing elements: Look around you to identify which elements from the scene are a good fit to use as a frame. Some examples can be trees, arches, geometric shapes, or contrasting elements.
  • Positioning the frame: Once you have identified your framing element, position it at the edges of your picture to create a visual boundary, which in turn guides the viewer’s eyes toward the subject.
  • Don’t overpower the subject: The frame should complement the subject and not compete with it. Ensure the frame does not overpower your subject by being distractive.
  • Use extreme angles: Using a low-angle or high-angle shot combined with framing can add more depth to your image, creating a dramatic and engaging composition.
  • Keep experimenting: Sometimes, hitting gold on the first attempt is hard. Therefore, experiment with different frames and pick the one that best suits your subject and the context.

Use Framing Composition in Your Photos

Framing is one of the best composition styles you can use in your photos. The technique uses natural or artificial elements from the scene to create a visual boundary in the picture and guide viewers’ attention toward the subject.

You can use this technique to tell a story, show your perspective, eliminate unimportant parts from the scene, or use it as a creative choice to make extraordinary images. The key is to have clarity about the context of the image, identify the subject and frame, and experiment until you achieve your desired goal.

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