An Introduction to Framing in Portrait Photography

Framing is an integral part of the whole process of image making. Be it landscapes, or portraits or anything in between, composition and proper framing brings out the best in a scene and in a subject. We have a decent idea what composition is. But what is framing?

Correct Framing in Portrait photo example

An Introduction to Framing

Framing denotes using elements inside the image (within the borders of the viewfinder / sensor) to put a frame of sorts around your scene / subject. This enhances the quality of the image, often bringing the subject into prominence and sometimes, highlighting it against an otherwise cluttered immediate environment. In this tutorial we shall be discussing about the importance of framing in portrait photography as well as how to use framing in the right way. We shall also look at how the basic composition techniques can be utilized in order to produce the best framing results.

How to properly frame the photo

Framing and composition, thus, have an ostensibly important connection. What you put in the image is the subject of composition. But that is also how you frame a subject, by putting elements in the image, but more specifically around the subject as is the case here.

In some compositions you can use a frame within a frame and then draw the viewer’s attention towards it. Let’s say that you have a child looking at a puppy through a pet shop display. The window of the pet shop works as the frame for the subject – the puppy. At the same time you can use the child’s parents standing on either side of her as natural framing for her, the main subject for the image.

Does it Have to be a Square or Rectangle in Shape?

One thing that you need to understand is that framing in portrait photography does not always have to completely surround the subject from all corners. Just as it does not have to be an obvious square or rectangle shape. Just the hint of framing is all that is required at times. What you should be doing is to incorporate elements which ‘seem’ to be putting a frame. Let’s discuss this in further detail.

An example of a rectangle or square shape is a door or a window in a room. One of the more often used elements in portrait photography is the use of windows or doors looking into or out of a room depending on the positon of the subjects. The window or the door becomes the natural frame for the shot.

Does the Subject Has to be Right in the Middle of the Frame?

No. There is no rule in photography that suggests that your subject has to be right in the middle of the frame. Let’s say that you have wide framing elements in the image. A set of stairs running parallel to each other, or a line of trees on either side of a street make beautiful leading lines and of course natural frames. But you don’t have to place your subject right in the middle of that. You can always try experimenting by placing the subject off-center. As always, an off center composition looks far better than a composition where the subject is bang in the middle of the frame.

Portrait photo and proper framing

What can you use to put Framing in Portrait Photography?

We have already learned about some natural framing options in outdoor and indoor situations. Be it indoor or outdoor portraitures, there are a lot more options which you can try. For example, tree branches are an obvious option. Let’s say that there are some branches in the foreground of the subject. You can place your subject in such a way so that the branches appear to be ‘framing’ the face.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say that you are making portraits out on the street. There seems to be no natural framing available. But there actually is. Try placing your subject right in the middle of the street (not advisable if the street has vehicular movement) and use the buildings on either side as leading lines and as frames for the shot.

Please note framing does not have to be a perfect square or rectangle or anything in those lines. A technique that I would recommend using is leading lines. Leading lines are straight lines. But they come in all sorts of types. A railway track for example consists of two leading lines. These lines seem to be merging at a distance because of the linear perspective. But when you place a subject somewhere at the middle of the frame, say about 4/5ths into the frame, the railway tracks appear to be leading towards the subject. Yet again an example of framing.

Using Props

There are some very interesting ways you can use props for framing in portrait photography. One technique that I have seen photographers do is actually using a photo frame. Not that I am encouraging you to copy this composition, because I have seen it far too often to be no longer fascinated by it. The technique is simple. Have the subject or your assistant hold the picture frame over their face. That way the face is completely within the picture frame. You will still have to do a bit of editing later on depending on the image.

That, however, is a more exotic type of framing. There are a lot of other everyday use items lying around your home / office which you can also use to frame your subject. Let’s say that you are making portrait photos in an office. You can use the basics of environmental portrait techniques to incorporate the immediate environment in the image. You can do this by using stuffs lying around the office like filing cabinets, desk, images on the wall and even books and other items of décor.

If you are shooting outdoors, such as in the yard try and incorporate things like clothes etc. to ensure that you have a better composition. There are many such options when you are shooting outdoors. A mirror inside a barber’s shop, a man looking through a window, a storekeeper looking through the counter these are just a few options that I can think of; instances where you can use the available options to demonstrate framing in portrait photography.

Framing in Portrait Photography when Shooting at Home

I find props lying in the room to be much better for framing in portrait photography than using props brought in from outside. For example when photographing kids, try and incorporate their toys and the furniture in their room for framing.

Then again, there are ways to frame in innovative ways without any props at all. Let’s say you are photographing a group of kids. You can ask the rest of the group to pose around the subject. You can physically ask them to pose or form a square or rectangle with their arms around the subject. Try different combinations to see what works in a particular situation.

Speaking of arms, they are a wonderful way of framing in portrait photography in certain situations. Let’s say that you are attempting to photograph portraits of a baby. Have your client, hold her baby in her arms wrapping around the little thing. This will create the perfect framing for the picture. You can always experiment with different poses.

Ben Novoselsky

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Entrepreneur, geek, photo enthusiast.
Ben Novoselsky

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