To fill the frame is important to good composition. This is because it keeps everything relevant to the image you are making. Beginning photographers are often frustrated when they review their photos. They see things in the picture they had not noticed when they were taking it. This article will teach you how to see those extraneous elements and what you can do about them before you take a photo.
Being intentional about how you fill the frame when composing a photo is essential to making good pictures. What you include and what you exclude from your frame shows people how you view the world around you. It also makes for a strong photograph or a weak one. Capturing photographs that include irrelevant stuff, your pictures lose impact.
A composition with a clear subject often has the most impact. Images showing all manner of irrelevant stuff will not captivate a viewer’s attention. Or, at least, not for long. Choosing only what you want to include in a photo that supports your main subject will always result in a better image. Filling the frame encourages you to think more about what you see through your viewfinder.
Table of Contents
- What is the Frame in Photography Composition?
- Can Negative Space be Used to Help Fill the Frame?
- Is It Possible to Use Other Composition Rules and Fill the Frame?
- How to Fill the Frame?
- How Much of the Image Needs to Be in Focus?
- Fill the Frame with What is Relevant
What is the Frame in Photography Composition?
When I’m encouraging you to fill the frame, I am not talking about getting your photos printed out and hung on the wall. That comes later. First, you must fill the frame you’re looking through when you take photos.
Our vision is unbounded. As we look around, we can see life as it constantly changes without any borders. Taking a photo is different. You capture a brief moment in time, encompassed inside four corners and four edges of a frame. This frame is integral to your photos. Usually, it’s rectangular. Sometimes it’s a square. Whichever shape, you need to decide what you include before pressing the shutter release button.
To fill the frame means you have to be mindful of everything you include, not only your main subject. It will help if you consider the entire frame when you are looking through your camera viewfinder. Beginning photographers too often are fixated on their subject. This is not all you need to be thinking about.
It’s best to look at what’s in the background and what other elements are in your frame. Think about how these things add to or distract from your subject. How does the light affect your composition? Will using a wide-angle lens, a zoom lens, or a telephoto lens help you frame your subject better?
Look around the edges of your frame and at each of the corners. What can you see? Is it helping to fill the frame in an interesting way that adds to the photo you are taking? The more pointless things you have in your frame, the less visual impact your photo will have.
Can Negative Space be Used to Help Fill the Frame?
Yes. So long as it’s intentional. Negative space is all the area around your main subject. Some photos have no negative space. The subject fills the entire frame. Most compositions do include some negative space. This is a legitimate way to help fill the frame, so long as the space is a deliberate part of the photo.
Snapshot photos often contain vast amounts of space. This space has not been considered at all by the photographer. They are fixated on their subject and are not paying attention to what else is happening in the frame. With care, any space can be creatively included in a photograph. But it must be intentional and add something to the image.
Filling the frame does not require you to compose, so only a small portion of what’s before you is in your photos. In any photographic situation, exploiting the frame’s options with some empty space or taking a close-up is good practice. Ask yourself, does the empty background add to or detract from the composition?
Is It Possible to Use Other Composition Rules and Fill the Frame?
Yes! Making good use of other composition rules will help filling the frame in more interesting ways. The rules of composition are popular for a reason. They work. Most composition rules have been used for hundreds of years by painters. Photography has adapted them to the medium, but often in a more limited manner.
Painters and sculptors are not restricted by time and space as photographers are. Our cameras take a photo in a split second. A painter has as long as they like to work on a piece. They can compose and recompose as often as they like. Moving elements around on their canvas is much easier than moving them around in your camera’s viewfinder.
Contemplating how you’ll compose a photo, think about the lines and shapes you are seeing. Will they fit with a dynamic symmetry grid? Could you apply the rule of thirds? Are there strong lines, either real or implied, you can make use of? Whatever other techniques you incorporate into your composition, use them well. It’s never a good idea to apply a rule when it doesn’t help enhance the picture.
Structuring a photo well is important. How you arrange elements within your frame can add strength or create visual chaos. Filling the frame is not about cramming as much into it as you can. Leave space. Manipulate the lines and shapes. Consider the weight of light tones and dark tones. Use the building blocks of composition well.
The rules of composition are best applied when you know them so well you don’t have to continuously think about which one to use. You will see a scene to photograph and know intuitively which rule will best apply. This takes time and practice. Experience will show you when it’s best to apply a particular composition rule to help you fill your frame.
Edward Weston said, “Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravity before going for a walk.”
How to Fill the Frame?
Filling the frame is a matter of including what you want and excluding everything else. There are various techniques and tricks for doing this well.
Where to Take a Photo From
Where you take your photo from, your point of view determines much of what you’ll see in your picture. Positioning yourself well, you can exclude elements from the background you don’t want to see in your photos.
Photographs render what we see in three dimensions into two dimensions. This means that elements included in a composition may appear differently through the lens. When we see with both eyes open, we have a different perception of depth than what is captured in a photograph. Closing one eye as you line up a photo can help bring this into a clearer perspective.
Look at an object about two or three meters (yards) away from you that’s around the same size as a laptop computer. Close one eye and hold one hand out at arm’s length, so the object is obscured from behind your hand. Move your hand a little to the left or right. This reveals the object. Then hide the object behind your hand again.
Now open both eyes. Can you see the thing your hand was blocking when you had one eye closed?
Move Your Camera
When you’re taking a photo, and something is distracting behind your main subject, you can often hide that unwanted element from view. You do this by moving a little. Left, right, up or down. Even a small change from your point of view can make a big difference to how you fill the frame.
A simple camera tilt or shift will alter what you see at any edge of your frame. Where you have something at the top of your frame you don’t want to see, tilt your camera down a little. If there’s something on the left or right that’s best eliminated from view, shift your camera one way or the other. You can avoid seeing the distraction with this basic movement.
Move Your Body
More than zooming with your feet, move your position closer, further back, left, or right. Even up or down when you can. This will alter what you see in the background and your subject’s relationship to other elements in the frame.
Take time to observe what you are photographing and consider what will happen when you change positions and view it from a different angle. Exploring the possibilities by actually moving around is the best approach. You will see things alternatively when you change your position. Your final image will be stronger for it.
Your initial impulse for where to take a photograph from will not always make a great composition. It will be the most obvious, so this is where most people will take a photo of the same subject. You will often get better photos from the second or third position you try.
Change Your Focal Length
Zooming with your feet, getting closer or further from your subject, has a certain effect. Changing lenses to a longer focal length or to get a wide-angle shot with a short focal length produces a different type of image.
Using a zoom lens extended to its farthest focal length gives you a very different perspective than standing close to your main subject. With a wide-angle lens, it looks much different. How your subject appears and what you can see in the background will be very different depending on your focal point.
Sometimes you might need to stand far from your main subject. To fill the frame well, you may think you need to use a long focal length lens, so a significant portion of what you see is excluded. Changing lenses and positions may make a more interesting composition.
Getting into a higher or lower shooting position could help. Including another critical element might help enhance your subject. Use an off-center placement of your subject. Embrace some negative space. This can make a creative alternative to always taking close-ups.
Photographic exploration is a good thing. Using a different lens, closer or further focal point, and alternative points of view helps you see better ways to compose your photos. Always relying on zooming is not the best option. Using prime lenses forces you to see and fill the frame with your subject alternatively.
How Much of the Image Needs to Be in Focus?
Using a wide aperture is a popular photography technique to create bokeh (blur around your subject.) Filling your frame with blur is very effective when you do it well. How much blur you include depends on the subject and how relevant the background is. Sometimes you may want completely soft bokeh. Blur may hide relevant information that can help fill your frame and add to the image.
You can control the amount of blur in an image. Try filling your frame with a sharp subject and partially blurring the background. By doing this, you provide visual information without it distracting from your subject. Finding that balance is a matter of selecting the right combinations of a camera, lens, and distance settings. To learn more about how to do this, please check out my article on depth of field.
Fill the Frame with What is Relevant
Making the subject spill over the edges is not what it means to fill the frame. When this technique works best for the chosen subject of a photograph, use it! But, you can also make good use of negative space to enhance an image. Filling the frame in photography is about including what is relevant to the photograph you want to make. Exclude everything else.
Be mindful of what you see within the edges of your frame. Filling the frame of your image with elements or empty space that does not support your subject weakens any photograph. Take time to look carefully before you press your shutter button. Your photography will improve greatly the more consistent you are in doing this.