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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.