Landscape Composition Tool #8:


Framing is a powerful method of directing the viewer’s eye in a photograph, and is an excellent tool in a landscape photographer’s compositional toolbox. Framing elements are found naturally and work to focus the viewer onto the main subject of the image. Besides focusing the viewer’s eye, framing can also add depth to an image to create more interest. To use framing while on location, after finding the main subject you want to photograph, look for things and vantage points that can be used to frame the subject in an interesting way. Usually wide-angle lenses are used when framing an image so the frame element and the subject can both be photographed in the same photo.

As an example of framing, Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah is a great example. This popular photo spot for sunrise uses an arch to frame the canyons and sunrise in the background. The underside of the arch lights up in the early morning sun in an incredible orange hue. Using the arch as a frame provides interest around the edges of the photograph and focuses the viewer’s attention on the sunrise and the background. The rays of the sun work to direct the eye back to the frame, so the viewer’s gaze is moving between the arch as the framing element and the sun.

May 22, 2021

In another example of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California below, the trees perfectly frame the bridge in the background. The trees are catching the sunset light and provides interest in the foreground, but also focuses the viewer’s attention on the bridge and the beautiful sunset colors.

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Trees make for great framing elements to use in a photograph because they are so tall, they can frame the main subject when the trees are used in the foreground as shown above. The image below of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California also uses trees as a framing element to direct the viewer’s eye onto El Capitan in the center of the photograph. This makes it clear the main subject of the image and provides some interest along the sides of the image.

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Tree don’t always need to be in the foreground to be used as framing elements. Consider the picture below from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The trees in the midground frame the mountains in the background perfectly and help complement the foreground grasses to help frame the mountains in the reflection.

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As another example, the chapel of Yosemite National Park is framed by a tree in the foreground on the right side of the image and another tree in the midground on the left side of the image. Using these trees as framing elements helps to emphasize the chapel as the main subject of the photograph because they direct the viewer’s eye toward the center of the frame. Rather than using empty space of cropping the image in to only show the chapel, the snow-covered trees provide some interest around the side of the image to paint a more complete picture of what the scene looks like to the viewer.

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Besides trees, canyon walls can also make for great framing elements. In the picture below of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park, the canyon walls work to frame the waterfall, while also providing an interesting element to the photograph.

April 28, 2021

As another example of canyon walls providing a framing element, consider Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona below. The river and center rock are the main subject, and they are nicely framed by the canyon walls on the left and right side of the image. The colors and the textures of the canyon walls complement the center frock formation and water nicely while also directing the viewer’s eye toward the middle of the photograph.

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Another example from Crater Lake National Park in Oregon shows the rocks in the foreground framing the center island. This helps to generate depth in the image and gives the viewer an idea of where the island is located within the lake. The rocks also provide complementary texture and colors to help lead the eye in the island, the main subject of the photograph.

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Framing is an amazing tool to generate depth in an image and focus the viewer’s attention on the main subject of the photo. Items used as frames generally provide texture and interest around the edges of the photograph. To use framing on location, try to incorporate items that provide interest around the edge of the photo while also leading the viewer’s eye toward the main subject of the photograph. Trees work really well as a framing element for landscape photos (assuming you’re in a location with trees), rock walls also work well, and buildings can be used for framing elements when photographing around cities. This compositional tool is an important addition to the landscape photographer’s compositional toolbox. For more tools that can be used for compositions, check out this article!

How have you used framing in your photography? Let me know in the comments below!

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