Enter any photographic contest and, unless the rules explicitly forbid it, you will find a great many submissions displaying a bewildering variety of frames, from the humble white border to the most elaborate simile-woodwork monstrosity.
The fact is that frames do a lot to boost a photograph. It seems sharper, more contrasty, more present. And this for several reasons.
First of all, a frame adds the finishing touch to the display. Students do pin photographs on their dorm walls and the result works just fine for them. But that’s either because those photographs are all about the content (their quality has very little importance) or because the wall itself becomes the frame when enough photographs accumulate. But the role of frames goes far beyond the simple finishing touch. Frames grab some viewer attention and play a large part in the actual composition.
One form of frame is the old vignetting or edge burning that Ansel Adams (among others) used to stop the observer’s eye from roaming out of the photograph. Above is a typical example of this. This grey composition works for 2 reasons, both related to tonal values:
Circular vignetting works in a similar way, particularly in a square composition. Here, the darkened sky and ground around the geode help us keep our interest on the glass structure rather than let it escape and lose focus.
So frames play a very dynamic role in picture enhancement and art in general. The frame itself is a picture/an object. It radiates its own energy outwards into the room (if on a wall) and inwards, directing the view at right angle from its edges and with a force proportional to the strength of each edge.
In the Navajo market photograph above, there is no way you would try to look outside that opening in the wooden wall. Your attention is inevitably directed towards the tables and then on to the buildings and the colourful flag catches you from there to circulate and keep attention high.
So a perfectly square with even edges creates attention right in its middle, for instance. Hence, my question : what happens when you alter the relative strength or shape of the frame edges. I’ve experimented in the past, with little interesting stuff to report. But, as I used LightRoom’s panorama tool, more and more of these bonkers frames started appearing in uncropped versions.
Two things struck me. One, they’re a pain to crop as you often lose precious outlying details, as the right side of the red truck, above. So the real lesson is shoot really wider than you think (my original intention, here, was to have less room on the left and more on the right, for a 3-way shootout between the 3 trucks).
And two, the apparent random nature of the edges actually corresponds to the lens’ geometrical properties and the photographer’s position and movement during the panorama. Which often gives the whole picture an interestingly balanced composition that you can’t create easily on purpose.
Because the edges and corners of photographs can contain little details the photographer chose to put there, the jigsaw panorama frames tend to highlight them when you don’t allow for enough breathing room around them. When I realised this, I started creating more panoramas of simple scenes rather than using a wider lens.
And piling the whole lot in a single post is even more fun as the jagged edges play with one another, in between photographs.
Beyond the fun aspect, you could probably use this effect as a form of comment on the content of the image. Just as portraits of officials are often presented inside luscious golden works of art, you could just as well present a social scene inside a disturbing shape to condemn it (see the bridge / gated community 2 pics above) or, on the opposite use a cuddly outer-shape to enhance the lovability of the subject (see the plump water-edge tree, 3 pics above).
I won’t go as far but do think that matching image borders with image content can add to the impact of the photograph as in this 1970’s style house inside it’s 1970’s style shape. Like the results or not, the idea is to add weight and make viewers think harder about the photograph. It’s all part of make your travel photography more personal and creative. What say you ?
#548. Photo Composition: the Importance of Frame Aspect Ratio
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