Whether you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist, framing your photographs is a great way to honor your work and show others that you take pride in your photographs. Framing a picture can dramatically change its meaning, composition, as well as overall look and feel. You may be surprised to learn how many different ways a simple frame can impact the way you present your work!
Photographs represent an artist’s vision. The artist composes the scene in the viewfinder and creates it with the click of the shutter button. Sometimes this composition is the artist’s final vision, and sometimes it’s not. That’s where framing and cropping come into the picture, to extend the vision to the artist’s satisfaction.
Most 35mm photographs are taken with finality, due to the tightness of the format. Larger photographs allow for more customization: cropping and re-composition can alter the character and message of the image without compromising its quality and resolution. Finally, square photographs can be made more visually impactful when the picture’s focal point is centered by a frame.
When we view a photograph, our eyes are drawn to the object of most interest: the subject. This interest may depend on what the image’s audience relates to, both emotionally and psychologically – it is the thing that elicits a reaction from viewers.
Our brains are wired to identify faces, in particular, the subject’s eyes and mouth. These give us an idea of how the subject feels and who they are. After faces, writing is usually the next most attracting visual element. Writing can tell us a lot about a photograph. It provides us with information on the specific situation being depicted, or can simply add aesthetic qualities to the work of art.
When framing your work, you should consider how the surrounding elements in the photograph correspond with these two main factors. How you frame your picture should balance these subjects within the frame.
When there’s only one subject in your photograph, it might seem obvious to place it at the center of the image. While this might be suitable for some works, this type of framing might be too predictable. When you crop and frame your single-subject works, placing the subject off-center creates drama and conveys excitement. Frames contextualize the image, allowing the photographer to create visual tension between the viewer and the artwork.
If there are many subjects in your photograph, the composition can be cropped and framed to either balance these subjects within the frame or throw them off-center to create stylistic variation. The framing is important, because it can completely change the message the photograph conveys. For example, a picture of a forest can seem perfectly healthy when a smokestack in the background is cropped from the image. On the other hand, one person can be cropped from the image to make it seem like the other subject is alone. For artistic purposes, photos can be altered to reduce, enrich, purify, magnify or simplify the intent of the work.
In photography, people often use the term “aspect ratio” to refer to the width and height of the image. The magic 2:3 ratio is most visually pleasing, and does not affect the composition of the photograph in a noticeable way. On the other hand, cropping an image to place it in a very tall frame can lengthen the exaggerate the height of the subject. Long frames create upward movement. Aspect ratios might not be consciously noted by the viewers, but how a photograph is framed can subliminally influence the way they react to or perceive the image.
Visual artwork is and has always subject to individual interpretation. Framing a photograph can help better convey the artist’s intent, as it can guide the way viewers perceive it. As a photographer, you can help lead the viewers’ eyes to observe and understand the different subjects, elements, and visual weights within the photograph to elicit an emotion, direct attention to, or tell a story about a particular aspect of the work.