Frame within a frame photography is a popular composition technique that can help add depth and symmetry to your photos. Simply put, it involves photographing artificial or natural elements that form a frame inside the larger frame of your image.
Typically, the frame within the frame is used to emphasize the subject or focal point of your image. For example, photographing a person standing in a doorway, or capturing a scenic landscape through the frame of a window.
While simple in concept, frame within a frame photography can be used in various ways, ranging from subtle to pronounced. We’ve listed some ideas and tips below for utilizing this technique to enhance the composition of your photos.
Most photographers position the frame in the foreground or background of their image. Placing the frame in the foreground invites the viewer into the world of the photograph, and can be used to great effect in landscape photography. The effect is enhanced when combined with leading lines, another composition technique that adds depth and draws the viewer in.
It can be difficult to perfect your exposure settings when shooting foreground frame within a frame photography. For example, imagine you are photographing an outdoor landscape through the frame of a window on a bright day. If you let in too much light, the outdoor landscape will be overexposed, and look washed out. Conversely, too little light and the window frame (and anything else inside in the foreground) will be too dark and shadowy.
To avoid this issue, try shooting at a less bright time of day. During the golden hour – the hour after sunrise or before sunset – the light outside will be less intense. Therefore, there will be less disparity between the ideal exposure settings for shooting inside and outside. Plus, the soft, reddish light should make for more colorful and visually interesting photos.
If shooting in the middle of the day is your only option, using a neutral density (ND) filter or graduated ND filter can help cut the intensity of the light outside, allowing you to correctly expose everything in shot.
Placing the frame in the background establishes a hierarchal composition that emphasizes the subject of your photo. It’s more subtle than placing the frame in the foreground, and works well in portrait photography; especially when combined with a shallow depth of field that helps to isolate the subject from the background.
To achieve a shallow depth of field, you’ll need to shoot with a wide aperture. A wide aperture allows more light to enter your lens, so it’s best to avoid shooting in a bright setting. If you’re shooting outdoors, try to shoot in the shade or during the golden hour when the sunlight is less harsh.
While it’s not exactly clear why humans love symmetry, there’s no denying that we do. Frames are symmetrical by definition, and immediately make a photo more visually appealing, whether the viewer is conscious of it or not. Similarly, a frame also adds depth to your photos, drawing the viewer into the image.
Using multiple frames within the frame of your photo compounds these effects. When executed correctly, you can create truly mesmeric and visually arresting imagery.
The frame within a frame photography examples above showcase how this simple technique can help improve the composition of your photos. Try to incorporate a frame within a frame on your next shoot to measure the impact for yourself.
Mmmm. Really? Don’t we frame within a frame even though it might be virtual? I’ve always photographed someone in the door frame or next to a window or under a canopy of trees. I never thought of it as frame within a frame although I may be missing the point. I just call it framing generally. Are we trying to pigeon hole creativity? Honestly with the high pixel counts we get in cameras, I thought you were going to lead us to shooting very loose and cropping in the shop. I’ve been doing this more and more. I can’t think fast enough to frame it the first time. Still, some very pretty pix!
Great point, Dennis. Though, I think there is a small difference between framing generally, and frame within a frame photography. For example, if you were to photograph a building with a tree on either side, the trees may help to frame your photograph, adding symmetry and directing the viewer’s focus towards the building. However, the trees don’t form a complete frame with 4 sides around the building. On the other hand, if you were to photograph the building through a window, and include the 4 sides of the window in your shot, you are using a frame within a frame.