52 Project

Week 3 Module: What’s in the Frame

Thai weaver copyright Aloha Lavina

When you find an image inside your viewfinder, how do you decide what stays in, and what stays out?

The decisions to include or exclude certain things make up how you compose. Because a photographer is limited by the (usually) rectangular frame of the resulting image, framing is one of the most important considerations when making images.

There are two ways you can frame an image—you can shoot it, or you can crop it later. If you can be economical in your framing at the time you’re shooting, you don’t have to crop the image. That means saving time, and saving pixels. Keeping the resolution and size of the image you captured can have its advantages, like when you want to print it. The most important advantage it has to your craft, however, is that you learn how to compose with economy, paying attention to the design you capture within that frame.

This week’s module is about composition. Specifically, we’re going to look at a few things that can affect the design of your image. We’re looking at subject placement and the role of lines and shapes.

Here is a video by Imre Z. Balint talking about some of the ‘rules’ of composition that painters and photographers have followed for many centuries.


Let’s break the lessons down into smaller parts to look at them more closely.

Using The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a simplified version of the Golden Mean, a composition technique that’s been around since before photography was invented. The Rule of Thirds is useful to place the subject in a ‘hotspot,’ or an attractive placement that seems to be pleasing to humans.

When you’re out shooting, keep in mind the grid and the Rule of Thirds. Many simple yet effective compositions have been made with this rule. You can also combine the Rule of Thirds composition technique with other design elements, such as scale.

In this video on landscape composition, TheDigitalLandscape looks at using foreground to achieve scale and a three-dimensional look to an image.

Lines and Shapes

We also learned in the first video that sometimes, the Rule of Thirds works less than using lines and shapes. Lines can be used to lead into and out of the frame. They can be used to push attention to the subject.

Some scenes lend themselves more naturally to the use of lines and shapes. Here are some examples with a bit of discussion after each one.

The triangle is a great way to add dynamic tension to your photo. What this means is that your photo has a way for the eye to enter and move in the frame as the viewer looks at your composition. Triangles can be quite attractive to the human eye.

Thai weaver copyright Aloha Lavina
Using a triangle in a composition.
copyright Aloha Lavina
The triangle, example 1.
Vietnamese hats copyright Aloha Lavina
Using a triangle in a composition, example 2.
copyright Aloha Lavina
The triangle, example 2.

Lines also enable the viewer to enter and then exit the photo with ease. Giving the viewer a path to view the image is a way to make the experience of looking at your image pleasing, making your image attractive.

Burmese monks copyright Aloha Lavina
Using lines in a composition.
copyright Aloha Lavina
Using lines in a composition, example 1.
Taos church copyright Aloha Lavina
Using lines in a composition, example 2.
copyright Aloha Lavina
Using lines in a composition, example 2.

Lines don’t have to be straight. They can be curvy, too.

getty museum copyright Aloha Lavina
Using curved lines in a composition.
copyright Aloha Lavina
Curved lines in the composition.

A photographer at work isn’t always thinking in a linear fashion. We don’t have a checklist in our head, especially when the images we want to make appear in front of us quickly, giving us only seconds to react and press the shutter. The best way to hone your composition skills is to practice, practice, practice.

Your assignment this week is to use what you learned about design elements in this module to come up with a composition that you achieved without cropping. The challenge is to shoot and capture a well designed image that uses at least two of the compositional techniques covered this week.

If you want to journey with me as I rekindle my love for all kinds of photography in 2012, and learn lots of things along the way, head on over to our new Facebook page (and like us!), where you can participate in project modules, get some feedback, talk photography, and have your photography featured in a monthly roundup!

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