Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

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I honestly can’t remember which brilliant and knowledgeable photographer told me the insightful little tidbit of information below, it was years ago. At any rate, I wish to thank them for the advice. It has helped me to concentrate on my composition and framing my images for storytelling. This little piece of advice has been invaluable. I want to share this knowledge with you.

“What you leave out of the frame is just as important what you include in your photograph.”

Framing and storytelling

It’s so important to consider how you frame your images and the message you wish to convey. The story can change so quickly just by considering which items to keep within the frame and which you choose to exclude.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Although I applied different post-processing treatments. These two images were shot during the exact same session. This image shows a tighter view of the vulture and the landscape.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

This image shot from the same location was framed to include the small town and the wider landscape. It’s a different story from the first image.

Let’s be clear I’m not talking about Photoshopping all kinds of items out of an image I’m talking about how you frame your photograph. Where you stand and the focal length you use can make all the difference in the message your image conveys to the viewer. Let’s take a look at a few examples and discuss.

Excluding elements changes the story

In this series of images my son and his friend are playing at “parkour” during a forest hike. They repeatedly jumped over this log for a good 15 minutes. They were laughing and loving each moment as they performed for my camera.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Here the boys chose to jump from the downed tree in unison.

In the first shot above, both boys are jumping from the log in unison. The image suggests themes of friendship, fun together, youthful exuberance in nature and physical activity. I’ve included it to give you a sense of context and a feel for the actual atmosphere during these series of images.

In this second image below, one boy sits in the background waiting his turn to jump the log. The image still conveys the idea of friendship and youth within nature, but the story is a little different. Now we have boys taking turns to jump the log, and the message conveyed is different.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

In this shot, my son is waiting his turn in the background.

Finally, compare these images to this final shot of just the one lone boy jumping over the log. Now it’s a story about being alone. There’s still the feeling of youthful exuberance, but now it’s a story of solitude as well. The feel of the image changed because I asked one of the boys to step to the side and remain out of the frame. There’s no Photoshop involved. All that was required was that I removed one small element from the image.

Here there’s only the boy included in the image. I purposely shot this image with just the one child.

The story changes subtly in this example, but it’s still an important difference. My intention for this particular shot was much different from the previous shots. I wanted to use this image in my stock library whereas the other images were shared with my friend and serve as memories of our two boys.

Tighter framing changes the story

So the first lesson is that removing one small item can completely change the purposes for which you use a photograph. In this second example, you will see that using a tighter framing and leaving out details once again changes the story of the image.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I zoomed in close and focused on her eyes.

In this case, one is a very tightly framed shot of the older sister. Then in other shots, I included both girls. The images were taken just moments apart. I wanted a candid headshot of the older sister, but I also wanted to capture the two girls playing together. Getting these two stories was all about framing the image correctly. In the end here’s the final shot of the girls playing. Their mom purchased this image as a large canvas that now hangs in the girls’ bedroom.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I zoomed out and included both girls in this shot.

Camera angle and framing

It’s now time to consider framing an image from different angles so that you can tell a different story. So let’s take a look at this landscape shot. Blown up, printed, and framed, this makes for a beautiful art print hung above the fireplace – this image speaks of the Canadian wilderness.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

This image was shot from a canoe and I purposely framed the image to leave out certain details.

Take a look at the reality of the location. I used my phone to snap this quick documentary photograph. The reality is we were sitting in a canoe just a few hundred meters from the local marina. We were not really in the wilderness, rather just enjoying being on the water in cottage country.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Here’s a quick documentary shot of the scene taken with my phone. You’ll notice the marina on the right-hand side.

Exposure

Of course leaving items out of a frame can also be achieved by adjusting your exposure. Consider these two shots of the same scene. I purposely exposed the one scene to create deep shadows as I wanted to black out the small building. Because I wasn’t able to completely blacken it out, I had to add some black during post-processing (yes, I cheated a little).

I knew I wanted the image to be about the silhouette, not the building. So, I eliminated the shed using  Lightroom. I deepened shadows using the adjustment brush and few quick spot removals. Take a moment and consider the effect.  What do you think? Do the images tell different stories?

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I purposely underexposed this image to create dark shadows that help hide the shed.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Here the exposure allows us to see the shed. This is another example of how the story changes by leaving out just one element.

Framing with a purpose

Purposeful framing is so important to conveying stories within your images. Scan the scene carefully and consider each element. How might that huge decrepit building in the background affect the atmosphere of your portrait? How does garbage on the street change the feel of your idyllic shot of a park? Consider leaving extraneous information out of your shots. If you want to tell the story of an isolated urban scene, then think about extra details you may not need to include.

Conclusion

Give it a try and show us some of the ways you’ve framed your images to convey a story. Show us a comparison of what you’ve left out of the frame and what you’ve included. We want to see how you manage to tell photographic stories.

In closing here are just a few more examples of how the story conveyed by a photo can change when you adjust your framing and leave out certain details.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

I zoomed in closely to focus on just the guitarist’s hands.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

In this shot, I focused on the beautiful singer and her joy as she performed.

Tips for Framing your Images to Tell a More Compelling Story

Finally, in this image, I included several members of the band together. Again the story changes.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Erin Fitzgibbon

is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specialises in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her family.

  • NV_tele_watcher

    Erin, in a future tutorial, you can use the shot of the two girls with the caption: “I zoomed out and included both girls in this shot” as an example of what NOT to do. The girl on the right looks like she has a tree growing out of the top of her head.

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    lol, I’ve already written that article. I embrace imperfection. The image was a quick snap done to get them playing because mom asked for them. It wasn’t a shot I showed to clients as their expressions are not the best. If I were truly worried about the tree I would simply take the image and do a little cloning and blurring to change something that has a fairly large amount of bokeh in it already. Sometimes a shot is just a shot and the point was to illustrate framing for this tutorial only. Here’s the post I wrote all about learning from your mistakes. https://digital-photography-school.com/dont-delete-failed-images-instead-learn-mistakes-tips/

  • NV_tele_watcher

    Erin, thank you for your prompt reply. I hope you weren’t offended by my comment. I did click the link to “learning from mistakes.” Hey, we’ve all “been there” which we’ve “learned from” and have made better decisions on framing our subjects. I do commend you for your knowledge and for writing about these issues to make anyone/everyone who reads these articles better photographers.

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    no offended at all. That’s why there’s an lol there. I’ve got a thick skin ;))

  • David Gee

    I didn’t notice the tree until NV_tele_watcher pointed it out. I did notice the different impact caused by having the two girls present. Cropping the bush area above the girls removes the offending tree and still maintains the impact of the two girls. However you then lose the setting which may be important – perhaps we should ‘forgive’ the tree if the context is important and absolute perfection not necessary. Another question – why is the tree bad anyway? We are conditioned to think this, but is the photo really worse because the tree is there?

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    Ohhhh, I am loving this debate. Excellent points. As someone who is sometimes quite loose about a lot of rules. I find a lot of validity in what you are saying. I don’t find the tree hugely offensive. I might clone it out a little but I’m not too worried about it. Great comments.

  • Lee McCurtayne

    I love “Critics”, as a matter of fact Disraeli once said, a critic is someone who failed art and literature.

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    LOL fantastic comment. I love quotes. I will be frank I love critics. A lot of the time they make me look at my work with new eyes. My skin is certainly thick enough to take it.

  • emmanuel obese asare

    actually can you kindly tell me how to go about my old canon EOS REBEL T3 because i find it difficult to operate again since i have to manually focus and do more the stuff than to switch to auto to do certain things

  • Erin Fitzgibbon

    Hi emmanuel,

    That’s quite a tall order for here in the context of this article. Having a camera that forces you to do things manually is a good thing. Auto doesn’t teach you the craft of photography. Maybe an article like this one can help you out.
    https://digital-photography-school.com/manual-mode-artistic-choices-photography/

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