I'd like you to try a little experiment, right now. Please find a printed sheet of paper with seemingly very little white space left on it. A statement from the bank, an electricity bill, whatever. I'll wait.
Can you write a lot of personal notes on it? Probably not.
Now, take a pen and draw a line around the text, staying close to the letters. A bit like this:
Now can you find space to write on the page? I have criss-crossed and blurred to accentuate the effect but a simple pen line around the the print is enough. The effect of visual boundaries is profound. Write letters of one message next to letters of another and they retain all their meaning thanks to a tiny little continuous line. Remove the line and good luck understanding the two intertwined messages.
One aspect of photography rarely discussed in articles is the very presence of boundaries around the photograph itself. It is taken for granted, yet sets the tone for what lies inside in essential ways.
Frames are rectangular boundaries
The photographic frame is a rectangular boundary. If that seems trite, then you are underestimating the importance of any visual boundary.
All it takes is a tiny rope to keep most people out of a private property. Draw a line on the road and you can start and end a race, with all competitors in agreement with the implicit rule.
The photograph above is visually dense. It converges towards the center, but there is a gorgeous mosque on the left, two people talking at bottom-right, two others on either side of bottom-center, restaurant neon-lights at top right. Your eyes can roam in every direction. Do they ever leave the image ?
Do your eyes move about the frames in the same fashion in the photograph above and the photograph below ?
Do you feel a difference between the following version of a photograph? The only real ones are tiny and are happening along the edge. Yet, the perception is slightly different for all 3.
Why all the questions, you ask 😉 Maybe you'd prefer answers.
There is only one answer in this article: the frame of the photograph - be that the viewfinder through which you frame your shot or the physical frame around the final print - plays a major role in how your photograph will be composed and the impression it will leave viewers with.
Still not convinced? If you can, place a rule of third grid over your viewfinder for a week, then a square grid for another, then a 16:9 grid for a third. Are your photographs the same from one week to the next?
If you are interested in composition, start with the frame.
We can study the frame along 2 axes: format and edge type. The first mostly concerns cameras, while the second is linked to post-processing. Let's take a look at both.