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Learn in 5 minutes how to frame your photos

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

It is with a few simple framing rules that I start these first 6 articles on the basics of digital photography to master: knowing how to frame, knowing how to use the right amount of light, obtain a clear image, restore the right colors, choose the right color, observe your environment. Let's start by learning to frame well or, as we also say, to compose your image well.

Dans cet article, tu vas apprendre à reprendre le contrôle de ton appareil photo pour réaliser une belle photo en y faisant entrer la bonne quantité de lumière.

Choose an orientation and apply the rule of thirds

The first question you need to ask yourself is the orientation of your photo: portrait or landscape. You can use the portrait orientation for a landscape and the landscape orientation for a portrait. Demonstration below:

These photos were taken in Quebec. For the first one, I chose the landscape orientation because it allowed to tell in the direction of the width the story of the sunset behind a hill on the Saguenay Fjord. For the second one, you had to give the feeling of climbing the hill to deserve access to the Montmorency Falls, with a portrait orientation that starts from the bottom to the top.

When we take a photo, we tell a story and we do not tell it in the same way according to its orientation and its framing, that is to say the placement of the elements that we photograph.

The rule of thirds is to use a grid that cuts vertically and lengthwise your image into 3 equal-sized parts. This rule makes it possible to simplify the composition by giving you reference points in the portrait or in the landscape direction.

Graphic description of the rule of thirds in portrait orientation
Rule of thirds for portrait orientation

Graphic description of the rule of thirds in the landscape orientation
Rule of thirds for landscape orientation

You can apply this grid by activating it in your camera or smartphone settings to see it on your screen or in your viewfinder, or even, if you prefer, imagine it when you take a photo. It is also possible in all image processing software to apply this grid to crop your photo.

Most often, to create dynamism in your photo, you will place the elements you want to highlight at the intersections of the lines or on the lines. Demonstration in portrait and landscape directions below:

In the first photo, it was important that the sun attracts the attention, so I placed it at the intersection at the top right, while leaving at least 2/3 for the water, because I am telling a story that takes place on a fjord and not in the sky. In the second photo, I tried as much as possible to place pieces of the staircase on 3 intersections in order to focus the attention of the eye on the staircase that climbs up the hill. Let's see what it would have been like without this framing:

We agree, it's not the same story that we tell like this, but especially on the aesthetic level, there is no match ...

Getting around and moving your camera

Framing your photo well also involves positioning yourself well in relation to the subject you are photographing. You can get completely different results by moving horizontally or vertically. So do not hesitate to test multiple shots while moving from one point to another, for example: lying on the ground or with the camera at the level of the belly (this makes it possible to simulate the gaze of a person smaller, such as a child) or the device held with the arm raised or while climbing on a chair, a car roof, from the top of a terrace. You should not hesitate to zoom in or out to observe the difference in framing. Define your frame, do not hesitate to get out of it and get moving!

Frame a portrait well

When taking a close portrait of a person, it is important that you use the rule of thirds, making sure to line up the subject's eyes with the top line of the grid, but also letting the face occupy two-thirds of the picture.

Close portrait that respects the rule of thirds

In the case of larger portraits, so that your photo is more harmonious and attractive to the eye, you will need if possible:

  1. put in the frame objects of the environment which can be important to give meaning to your photo or to highlight your model (his motorbike, his dog, a photo frame ...).

  2. do not leave too much room above the head, but also do not cut the forehead at the base of the scalp.

  3. do not cut in the middle of a joint (elbow or knee), hand or chest.

  4. be careful with the direction of your model's gaze: if she is looking to the right of the image, shift the framing of her eyes to the left.

Frame a landscape

Framing a landscape lends itself well to the use of the rule of thirds. We will often try to reserve 1/3 or 2/3 of the image in the sky or in a body of water (a lake, the sea) depending on the story we want to tell.

On the first photo above, the sky is important, but the subject is indeed the mountain of Val Thorens, so the mountain fills two thirds of the image. On the second one, the striking subject is the sky over the Baie de Somme with its light rays which seem to come out of the ground, so we devote two thirds of the image to it.

The two photos above speak of the sea, but on the first one the sea near the island of Capri is the important subject, with its swarm of boats anchored in circles, while on the second one we are also by the sea , but the subject of attention is the setting sun with its orange sky over Cape Breton Beach.

It will also be useful for you to place a character or a vehicle that moves in the most consistent direction. On the photo below, these dromedaries run along the beach of Djerba with their shadow which moves to the left, I have framed them by placing them on the right third of the image:

Dromedaries walking on a beach in Djerba in Tunisia

You can also forget about the rule of thirds and center your landscape on an element, if you want for example to emphasize a particular symmetry or to accompany a perspective.

Above on the first photo, I tried to get a symmetrical rendering of the reflections of the clouds on the water of Lac du Fou in Quebec, so I opted for a 50/50 distribution of the sky and the water. On the second one, I wanted to accentuate the tunnel effect of this small Belgian wood, so I placed the exit slightly below the horizon to still retain the dark atmosphere of the treetops at the top of the image .

Break free from the rules to be creative

Getting used to using the rule of thirds is essential in order to achieve aesthetic results quickly. However, on an artistic level, the rules are made to be broken, so you also have to dare compositions that speak to you, even if they do not respect certain rules. The important thing is the story you want to tell with your photo. As a famous photographer said:

"Photography helps people see". Berenice Abbott

So help your viewers see what you wanted to see by pressing the shutter button on your camera.

Don't hesitate to experiment with different formats. Your camera can take pictures in multiple formats such as 16: 9, square (1: 1) or panoramic. For example, this photo is much more expressive in a square than in a classic format:

Close up of a daisy

And this panorama was essential to embrace the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius and the warm atmosphere of the buildings in southern Italy:

Bay of Naples and view of Vesuvius

To go further and find ideas

Most of these famous aesthetic landmarks to which our eyes have become accustomed for centuries come from painting and it is often with painters that we must seek inspiration for photography. There are other methods of composing a photo such as the golden ratio, the golden spiral, the triangle, the circle ... Most of them are geometric. You can take a look on this site showing the main painting composition concepts:

Here we are ! You learned in 5 minutes to frame your photos well. I wish you lots of fun and beautiful future photos. Do not hesitate to post a comment or a question if you wish.


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