Frame Within a Frame Photography: What it is and How to Use it?

What is a Frame within a Frame in Photography?

A frame within a frame is a photography composition technique. Within the four-sided frame of the photograph, another frame enhances the composition. It could be an actual frame like a window frame. Doors can make interesting frames. Even a picture frame can fit in a frame within a frame photography. You can use a natural frame or your own frame.

Placing a frame within a frame can help add depth and is a popular compositional technique for this reason. When you create interesting frames, it can help draw the viewer’s eye to your primary subject. Once you start looking for framing opportunities, you’ll start to notice so many ways you can use them to make a successful composition. Sometimes you may even be able to use multiple frames within a frame.

As with any compositional technique, using a frame within a frame is best when you incorporate frames that work well together with your main subject. Here are some composition tips for how to make the most of using a frame within a frame.

Why Place a Frame Within A Frame?

There are many good reasons to use this frame technique. How you frame photos is a key aspect of all good photography. Adding a frame within a frame brings a more interesting dynamic to the various shapes within a composition. Once you bound elements that appear in your composition with a second frame, you immediately influence how these elements relate to each other. 

Placing a frame within a frame can create depth. Framing well can draw focus to a main subject, even if it is relatively small within the frame. You can emphasize your main subject by working on the elements and how they are positioned in the frame. What’s closest to the camera and maybe the largest thing in your photo can be somewhat minimized using this technique.

window frame of a car.

When you use this frame method, it’s important to consider the relationship between your main subject and the frame. How does using a frame within a frame affect your main subject? Is it drawing attention to your subject?

Sometimes changing this relationship can be a matter of changing your point of view a little. If you are not happy with how your main subject appears in the frame, moving even a little will change the relationship between your subject and the frame.

365 project.

Using Another Compositional Technique Together With A Frame Within A Frame

Just because you have already chosen one composition technique to use does not mean you can’t also make use of another one. Or more.

Adding a shallow depth of field, leading lines, foreground interest, or any other composition technique you like will not break your picture. But it’s always best to make sure you compose so your photo looks best, not just because you thought of another composition rule you’d like to try out.

Don’t force the use of leading lines if your composition will not benefit. Be conscious of adding depth, rather than blurring the background, when there are interesting elements to be seen.

Always think about how your images will be made more interesting by the composition techniques you chose to use. Is the background important? If not, use a shallow depth of field. Is the window you are using as a frame is interesting, don’t distract from the story by adding another technique. Photographers can too often complicate compositional choices by adding more when it’s not needed.

Together with a putting a frame within a frame you can use any other technique, so long as it works well. Don’t try creating something just because you want to squeeze in a particular technique. One effective way to ruin a good image is to overuse composition techniques.

In this photo, the photographer has successfully placed a frame within a frame twice. Or more, if you take into account you can see both frames in the phone the guy is using to take the photo with. There are also leading lines and a shallow depth of field.

Inside and Outside

When creating images using the frame within a frame technique your primary subject can be in front of or behind the frame you are using. This is sometimes a matter of choice. Or a photographer may have no choice because the frame or subject cannot be moved or manipulated.

Either way, you can still make use of a frame in interesting ways. Often it’s more natural to frame a subject on the far side of a door or a window frame. Sometime though a subject framed in the foreground, closer to the camera than the frame is, can also work well.

looking at a building through a window frame.

Sometimes this will depend on the size of a subject. Subjects that are larger than a frame, like a door frame, cannot be framed well when they are in the foreground. You’ll need to place them further away from the camera so they look best.

If a photographer does place their larger primary subject in front of a frame it will overlap the frame. This can also work well so long as the framing is intentional. If the subject obscures too much of the frame, the effect of a frame within a frame is minimized and not so effective.

Hand in a frame within a frame.

In this image, the photographer has placed the main subject in the foreground and it overlaps the frame. The relationship between the hand and pen and the white paper, which is framing them, is strong enough that the interruption of the frame is okay.

A Frame Does Not Have To Be Complete

To effectively frame your primary subject within a frame, your frame does not need to be complete. Natural frames are often incomplete. Think of trees used as frames. Or clouds or anything that does not have four sides.

Shapes used in the foreground can be used well to imply a frame within a frame even when that frame is not completely closed. This can make an image even more interesting because it prompts the viewer to think more about the photograph. 

Using an outline of a frame that is incomplete you can draw a viewer’s eye around and then into your main subject. A broken frame might also be used to take the viewer’s attention to other objects in the composition.

When composing with a subject that intersects with the edges of your frame that is broke, be careful not to diminish the impact the frame might have. But, at the same time, be aware that creating an interesting composition is more important than trying to apply a technique that may be redundant in the situation.

Forcing the use of any compositional technique onto any subject will lessen the impact an image has.

Doors in a row on a building frame.

Using an Existing Frame or Adding Your Own

Working with the frame within a frame photography composition technique, you can make use of existing frames. Or you can add you own frames into your images.

One of the most common, and very cliched, ways to add a frame within a frame is to use a picture frame to surround your subject. The four edges of a picture frame create a readily recognizable effect that can enhance a subject.

Another thing people like to do is use their hands to make a heart shape to frame their subjects. This is fun but is also rather cliched.

Hands making a heart frame within a frame.

Existing frames are often easier to find and take a photo with. Frames can be created from all kind of objects when you put your mind to it. Trees may not be the main focus of your photograph, but they can certainly be used well to frame a subject.

Tree framing a wedding couple.

Even flower petals can make an interesting frame for the detail at the flower’s center.

close up image of a yellow flower in the center of the frame.

Conclusion

Whenever you chose to use a frame within a frame, make sure it will enhance your image. Don’t use this method of framing just because you want photographs in your portfolio as examples. It’s always best to use a frame within a frame when it will truly enhance your composition. 

Framing with windows and doors is often very natural. But making use of tree leaves, clouds, or even contrast levels in an image can work. Position your main subject and frame so they interact well together. Place your subject in front of or behind the frame. Wherever it will look the best.

hands are a frame.

Remember that any frame within a frame you use does not need to be a complete frame. A frame within a frame can be broken. It might be naturally broken, or your subject might intersect with it. When a frame is broken, make sure it’s still easy for a viewer to make sense of a scene.

The best way to learn to compose a frame within a frame is to practice often. Like anything, the more frequently you practice, the better you will become at doing this thing. Learning photography in this way you will certainly notice a big improvement in the quality of your photographs.

Images used to illustrate this article are from Unsplash.com.

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