Framing is the single-most important compositional technique to learn

The woods near the Mississippi river at St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis, offer a great variety of urban and woodsy landscapes for exploration.

Correctly framing a subject is a great basic way to form the composition of a photograph. Framing serves the main functions of leading the eyes and highlighting the subject, but they can also provide a sense of depth and layers to a photograph.

Photographer Ben Pecka on the train tracks near Nicollet Island, Minneapolis, MN.

In the photograph above, framing is used in a couple of ways. The tracks work as leading lines to guide the eye towards the subject. Also, the underpass is used as a literal frame to highlight the subject basically in the center. This photo is zoomed out a bit to show some extra context and capture the graffiti on the left, but in many cases a photographer may want to zoom in closer to fill the frame with the subject.

Utilizing foreground elements

Among the many different ways a photographer can frame their picture, using elements in the foreground is one of the most obvious.

The Minneapolis skyline as viewed from the 24th St. pedestrian bridge.

This photo utilizes a literal frame as a way to draw the viewer’s eye into the Minneapolis skyline. Similar to distance framing (discussed below), this photograph tells a story and provides additional context, while also making the subject clear and prominent. Using the chain-link fence shows the freeways below while giving a clear view of what surrounds the skyline, without detracting from the central focus of the photograph.

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, near the location where in 1680, Father Louis Hennepin first sighted and named St. Anthony Falls in the early days of settlement in Minneapolis.

This picture uses similar compositional techniques, utilizing lines and symmetry to draw the viewer’s eye to the top of the chapel. Using lines here gives a more subtle framing, while the buildings on the side frame a bit more obviously. The contrasted lighting between the buildings and church in the middle also help to bring the eye to the part of the picture that is most visible.

Selective Focus

With selective focus, a photographer blurs out the background and holds a crisp focus on the subject.

This photo illustrates the use of selective focus to make the balloons pop out from a busy background behind them. The contrast in the colors also strongly draws the eyes towards the subject and pulls the context out of the photo to help the viewer focus right where the photographer wants. The soft background is a more subtle effect that surrounds the subject and draws the viewer’s eyes to only that subject.

Selective focus is also an effective method to use in portrait photography, which we will cover at a later date.

Distance Framing

The French architect of The Basilica of St. Mary, Emmanuel Masqueray, was also the architect commissioned for the St. Paul Cathedral near downtown St. Paul.

With objects in the distance, framing may be necessary to show the viewer where they should be looking. When the subject is further away, it may not be possible to fill the frame. Using foreground elements can be an effective way to highlight the subject and give the viewer a direct sense of where to look.

Frames can also draw the viewers eye towards an object in the distance. Here, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis is outlined by thick trees. There is an obvious context that can be drawn from this photo. Pine trees are abundant throughout the adjacent Loring Park, which is not close enough to fill the frame with the building without utilizing these added elements. Using framing in this scenario is a great way to illustrate distance, add environmental context, and provide additional information to the viewer.

Can you describe more subtle techniques for framing? How have you used framing in your photography? Post details in the comments! If you are looking for some framing inspiration, check out these 10 additional examples with explanations.


  1. Thanks a lot, Karen. It was fun exploring around to find some new shots for this piece. In the process, I had learned that I took a photo of the church where my parents married ages ago, haha.


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