How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

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Photographers have long developed different classifications to pair with the design and execution of a photograph – lines, shape, texture, light, framing, contrast, just to name a few. For example, leading lines appeal to a viewer’s natural tenancy to trace line into a photograph. Sharp lines are used to grab attention and organic lines create a peaceful atmosphere.

Other composition techniques like the Rule of Thirds require a photographer to mentally break down an image to evaluate balance. Low and high perspective alter the way a viewer sees the world and symmetrical/asymmetrical elements highlights the quirky beauty of life. The technique we’ll have a quick look in this article, demonstrates the power of framing, especially in an urban environment.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

What is framing?

Framing in photography creates a self-contained image, like a photo-within-a-photo effect. As photographers, we are used to seeing the world through the frame of a viewfinder. We constantly evaluate what we’ll keep in an image and what we’ll exclude. We deliberately apply perspective, aim, zoom and positioning techniques to construct our photographs – sometimes without even noticing.

By cradling the subject in a balance of space and line, a frame is created, not dissimilar to the photo frames you’d find on your shelf at home.  Essentially, you are crafting a frame within a frame to deliberately bring focus to a subject, adding narrative and the unique experience of voyeurism that photography affords.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How do I frame a photograph?

For such an effective technique, framing has plenty to offer. It makes use of strong design skills, adding an extra layer to an image to create more depth.  Framing can also be used to obscure more mundane areas of a scene, boosting the efficacy of a photograph when viewed by others.

Composing an image by making use of framing is fairly straightforward. Start out searching for windows and doors as they are the most abundant frames in an urban environment. You’ll find that windows and doors, when photographed, contain their own little ecosystem within the one image. This is great for capitalizing on both content and narrative, almost like reading a window in a comic strip!

Frame shapes

Square or rectangular frames are probably the first things that leap to mind when someone considers framing. Doorways and windows are a great way for emphasizing a subject or depth, but they are not the only options and framing is not limited to squares or rectangles.

The image below proves how versatile the urban environment can be for artificial framing. The image was taken from the floor of a train station, lens pointed to the floor above. The darkness of the building structure is silhouetted against the blue sky, forming a crescent shape. The frame draws attention to the contrast of the architecture against the sky but also cradles the form of a human passing by.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

This photo was taken by chance in a late night shopping district. The framing of the man emphasizes his presence but also isolates him from the rest of the landscape.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

For this image, I aimed to align a gap in the cage with the cat’s face. The slight distortion caused by the lens draws the center square closer to the viewer’s eye. Framing isn’t always a split-second discovery, taking the time to assess a situation and respond creatively can be just as effective as shooting from the hip.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

Shattered windows in rundown urban landscapes offer beautifully detailed landscapes complemented by an informed framing technique.

Keep it real

Framing can be really effective for highlighting specific areas of a photograph. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not every photograph needs framing. Some images are much more effective when they stand alone. Like most photography, you need to be versatile and trust your instincts.

While lining up a perfect shot through a fence can be effective, make sure to be aware of your surroundings too. Don’t focus so heavily on framing that you sacrifice other photographic opportunities. You don’t need to force a frame on an image, so don’t overthink it. You want natural images that are enhanced by a frame, not poor images that require a frame to garner interest.

Just stay open to the idea of framing and gather enough experience to recognize a framing opportunity when one presents itself. This way, opportunities tend to reveal themselves rather than you having to force them out of hiding.

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

How to Use Framing in an Urban Environment

The branches of these trees act as a natural frame, sectioning up the image to draw attraction to the cute little bunnies within.

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Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. A lifelong fascination with flight has inspired her photographic practice in documenting the intricate form of aircraft. Megan is also interested in travel photography and documenting human interaction with the modern landscape, through both intentional and incidental intervention. She is well versed in both digital and film practice. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications.

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