What Makes A Well Framed Subject?

May 22, 2022

Tolkein Rock, Middlehurst, New ZealandTolkein Rock, Middlehurst, New ZealandI call this Tolkein Rock for no particular reason except the entire landscape around Middlehurst is an extension of Middle-Earth. Where the Tone River merges with the Awatere.

Tolkein Rock, Middlehurst, New Zealand
Phase One A series, IQ4 150MP, 23mm Rodenstock, f11 @ 30 seconds, ISO 50

We have one spot available at Middlehurst this year - 3-9 August. If you're interested, email [email protected] ASAP or see more details on our website

On two recent workshops, the same discussion arose with several photographers: what are they photographing? It sounds like a dumb, arty question you'd ask at the same time you contemplate your navel, but it's actually very practical. If you define what you want to show in your photograph before you use your camera, you're more likely to end up with a stronger composition or framing. 

Another obvious suggestion, one that is often forgotten, is to place what you are photographing somewhere in the middle area of the frame, rather than pushed out towards one of the edges. You can place it bang in the middle or use the rule of thirds, just don't put right on an edge of the frame (at least not initially - all rules can be broken, of course).

In the photo above of Tolkein Rock at Middlehurst, what is the subject? If it is Tolkein Rock, then I'd suggest the subject is too small, even though it is well positioned (in the middle somewhere) and its shape is in a clear area (in front of the sky). However, if the subject is 'Tolkein Rock within the Middlehurst landscape', then I am much more comfortable with my framing.

So, can we just change what we say our subject is to suit how we have framed it? Aren't I just playing with words to suit my argument? To some extent, yes, but think about your own reaction to this photo: did you look only at Tolkein Rock, or at a landscape with a pointy rock in the middle? If the latter, then I have been at least partially successful.

When we arrive at a location or choose a subject to photograph (e.g. a portrait or an animal), the first question we should be asking is what do we want to show in the photograph? As obvious as that sounds, not all of us ask the question automatically. Think about someone who has never seen your subject before and work out how you can share the location or subject with them as completely as possible.

Sticking to a single subject will help you create stronger compositions, but of course, we don't only photograph single subjects. However, it's when you introduce a second subject and try to include both within the frame that things become more complex.

I guess the question to ask yourself is, are you happy with the way you frame your subject? Look at some of your older work so you can be more objective and see if the way you are framing your subject makes the subject obvious, or if there are other elements in the frame that complicate things. Analysing your work and giving yourself suggestions for improvement will flow into your work in the future.


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