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Framing your subjects

You never get enough of composition and framing rules. Once you’ve digested the previous rules on framing, here are more to get your act right.
The next time you are framing up your subject, think of these tips for a better appeal.

1. Most times, we take pictures of people, places or things without anchoring them. For example, we might take a picture of the Petronas Twin Towers ground-up and crop off the top. It’s so not complete. If you don’t show how it stands tall against the morning or night sky, the picture appears crooked. The framing looks awkward because you’ve cropped its head. This rule works for people photos as well. How many times have you seen people’s feet being chopped off?

CC image courtesy of Mohamed Zahid

2. Another way to frame is to go very close to your subject and shoot wide open. This way you will have your subject in focus and the background blurred. This works best for landscapes – like a tree against a range of mountains where the tree is in focus and the mountains aren’t. Or a wide angle shot of a harbor cleat and ropes where the boats are in the background but out of focus and still recognizable.

CC image courtesy of Neerav Bhatt

3. If you are the sort who fills up your frame with your subject, say a car, you are on the wrong track. Pray why? Because people like to see how the car is modified or better than its predecessor. And this can be showcased if it’s anchored to the background. So instead of a close up of a car, how about a picture of the car against an old car or in the middle of a long and winding road? This way, you can show what the car is really made of in the photo.

CC image courtesy of Moyan Brenn

4. Do the cropping while you are framing. Instead of cutting off the subject’s legs at the joints, crop at the shins and your eye will fill in the rest of the leg. But cropping at the knees just looks wrong.

CC image courtesy of Spanner Films

5. However, if you want your images to lend a sense of mystery, you could deliberately obscure or crop off details. Take the Mona Lisa painting. DaVinci plunged the most expressive parts of the face – the corners of the eyes and the corners of the mouth – into shadow. The mind can’t help ‘complete’ the missing details, and each viewer will have his own interpretation of where the model is looking, and of what her expression is. This generates the painting’s famous sense of mystery. So if you are the sort who gloats in a sense of mystery, sure go ahead. But remember to obscure or crop your subject knowingly, and not haphazardly. It is easy to completely mess up this concealment technique, leading to incomplete pictures that dissatisfy rather than intrigue.

6. People tend to stand at a slight angle, which is quite noticeable when they are in a shot with an undeniably vertical object such as a building, metal fence, or light pole. In such cases, keep the structures straight when cropping to avoid your shot coming off as sloppy. Otherwise, be deliberate about having structures at extreme angles.

7. In product photography, anchoring can be best achieved by the use of shadows. Shooting a white without shadow means that photo will be used in combination with other elements. However, if you don’t want to do that and anchor the product, the best is a reflection on a black background. It’s called grounding your product.

CC image courtesy of S Vivek

8. If you want to know many more rules of framing it right, you could read our archived posts on Framing Perfect Photo [1], Framing Your Photos [2] and Monalisa Style Portraits [3].

Visually completing your images will go a long way in making you a master of framing your subjects. And it’s a forever learning exercise. Good luck with your journey.

~Zahid H Javali