Angela Faris Belt takes a close look at how to place and style those four essential edges that determine the form and meaning of images—and offers exercises to hone your framing and composition skills.
This excerpt from The Elements of Photography is provided courtesy of Focal Press. To purchase the book and learn more about the publisher, visit the Focal Press website.
“Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.” —Garry Winogrand
Images © Mark Eshbaugh, from his series Day’s End, Triptych (Chelmsford, MA).
What Is "The Photographic Image" Exactly?
Simply stated, the image is the product or confluence of three components as captured within a frame. The three components can be described as subject, form, and content (Ocvirk et al., 2002, pp. 12–15). In fact, every work of art, including images, sculpture, music, literature, and dance, is comprised of these three components. Although the naming conventions used to describe them vary, it is understood that these three primary components combine to create a complete image or work of art. The subject can be defined as what the image is about; it is the essence or meaning of the image, and may or may not be visibly present in the image. In literature, the subject is often referred to as the theme of the work. An interest in the subject is often the reason photographers make images to begin with; as Magnum photographer David Hurn explains, " . . . photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else" (1997, pp. 29–30). As good novels or poems operate for writers, good photographs are generally a means for an artist to convey some specific meaning (a point or message, a theme . . . the reason behind the work’s existence). The subject of a photograph may range from literal to abstract; however, an abstract subject such as “hope” or “transcendence” (or anything else which is not a noun) can only be conveyed through skillful consideration of the other two components: content and form.
While the term "subject" refers to what the image is about, the term "content" refers literally to the image’s contents. Image content (also referred to as subject matter) can be defined as those persons, places, or things that are visibly present and/or identifiable in the image. When the subject (or theme) and content (or subject matter) are understood as separate yet interdependent image components, photographers can combine them more accurately to convey meaning. The best photographers closely consider all image content as it relates to their chosen subject, and they do so for several reasons. First, all content, like all words, carries meaning that operates on connotative and denotative, subjective or objective, psychological, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, political, and many other levels. Therefore, the inclusion of content which is widely recognized to have specific meaning on one or more levels is more likely to communicate successfully to a wide audience. Second, each discrete piece of content in an image is like individual words in a sentence; each has the potential to either clarify or obscure meaning when juxtaposed. Additionally, like the subject of a work of art or literature, content can be abstract or non-representational; in these cases the remaining component of the image—form itself—might literally be the subject, or might afford the viewer a great deal of insight about it.
To illustrate the difference between subject and content, I often ask students if they are familiar with the novel or film The Shawshank Redemption. Most of them are. Then I ask, “What is the subject of the work?” Invariably students reply that the subject is “an innocent man who is sent to prison and escapes through ‘a river of shit.’ ” This interpretation by students proves that they confuse subject with content, and are thereby missing the real meaning of the work. I am familiar with the novel and the film, and I suggest to students that the subject of the work is hope or perhaps the nature of redemption itself. The innocent man imprisoned, all of his experiences, the experiences of all those around him, the “river of shit” and his unlikely path to freedom, all fall under the category of content—the concrete, identifiable aspects of the work that carry its subject or theme across. In order to use content to communicate about a subject, an artist needs to provide an organizational structure, and that organizational structure is called form.
The third component of the photographic image, its form, refers to all the means through which the subject and content are unified and presented. Form can be defined as the design elements that the artist combines to arrange a work compositionally, or the formal organization of elements that dictate the appearance of an image. Form, also called composition, in a photograph includes the traditional design elements (line, shape, value, texture, and color), to which I would add quality of light and framing. Mary Price, in her critical text The Photograph: A Strange, Confined Space suggests that what sets the work of more successful photographers above others is the photographer’s “Visual recognition of meaning in form,” and that it is precisely this recognition which “entails the ability to see a three-dimensional objective world in two-dimensional flat form . . . in instantaneous appreciation of what that segment about to become a separate whole will signify” (1994, p. 84).
It is the interrelationship between subject, form, and content that creates meaning in an image. Since form is the means through which an artist’s chosen subject and content are linked together, it is important to understand the technical elements behind it for a given medium. Form, specific to photography, is in large part dictated by the four technical elements which comprise all photographic imagery. When constructing images, photographers who consciously manipulate the formal arrangement of carefully selected content are able to accurately communicate their ideas about a subject. The manipulation of a photograph’s formal arrangement is in large part a direct result of the technical elements that create camera-made images. That first element is framing.
Framing: The First Photographic Element
Photographers who have had some basic training and practice in photography should fully understand metering and exposure in ambient light situations, as well as the attributes of their particular traditional, digital, or hybrid (meaning a combination of the two) media. Beyond that, they are most interested in creating images that apply their technical knowledge in a meaningful way, and they do so by using the elements of design and composition. But even photographers who know the basic rules of two-dimensional composition don’t necessarily understand how to apply those rules toward orchestrating content within a photographic frame. This chapter explores the principles underlying framing in the camera’s viewfinder and addresses the borders of the resulting image.
►If the principles governing proper metering and exposure are new to you, see Appendix B for more detailed explanation. As this is not a design text, if the elements of design and rules of basic composition are new to you, I recommend independent research using any of the excellent textbooks available on the topic.
Affecting Visual Quality and Photographic Meaning through Conscious Framing
Photographic images—images made from the action of light—are contained within a frame. The frame can be defined as the outermost boundaries of the photograph, the structure which circumscribes the photographer’s decisions regarding image content. Framing and borders combine as the first element of photography because they intersect as the transition point between the world and the image at every stage of the image-making process. Framing begins in-camera, continues through the cropping stages, and completes with borders created in the traditional or digital darkroom.
Every camera imposes a frame; it is a constant element of photographic images regardless of camera format or lens choice, determining the specific segment of space and time that will exist within its borders. As soon as you place the imposed frame of a camera’s viewfinder between the world and your eye, you actively engage the first unique technical element of photographic image making that directly affects the visual outcome of the image. You place the camera in front of your eye, and the world, which has no boundaries, is suddenly confined to the square or rectangle of the camera format’s viewfinder. In the words of Stephen Shore, “The photograph has edges; the world does not. The edges separate what is in the picture from what is not . . . the frame corrals the content of the photograph all at once” (1998, p. 28). Here’s the rub: the frame defines what viewers will see as the image content regardless of the attention paid to it by the photographer. Too often the transition from “seeing” to “seeing through the camera” is not present enough in the photographer’s mind; therefore, thoughtful framing must be developed as a very conscious act.
A visually literate viewer assumes the entire content of the frame to be intended by the photographer; through framing the photographer tacitly states that all content should be addressed toward determining the meaning of the image. In this respect, framing the contents of a photograph is like composing a work of literature; conscientious authors don’t add random words to sentences or unnecessary sentences to paragraphs. For instance, while reading a novel, how would you respond if there appeared non-sequiturs which only served to misdirect you with regard to the story line, and in the end the author notes that he or she didn’t intend the extraneous sentences to be treated as part of the novel at all! Just as meticulous readers interpret each sentence (indeed each word) of a novel in order to derive meaning, meticulous viewers interpret every aspect of a photograph’s content to derive meaning.
At some point in the process, photographers decide what to include and what to exclude from the final image. Framing refers to in-camera decision making, within the imposed frame the camera provides. Photographers make framing decisions based on what they determine to be the important aspects of the scene until the precise moment of exposure (or capture); once exposed, the captured image contains all the content that it will contain. For this reason (and for ethical reasons in fields such as photojournalism or forensic photography) the best time to make framing decisions is while the camera is in your hand and the scene unfolds in front of you.
When framing the content of an image, photographers should ask the following questions:
- Does all the content in the frame contribute to the meaning of my image and lead the viewer to understand what I am trying to communicate about my subject?
- Does any content in the frame distract from communicating about the subject or theme of my image? If so, how can I eliminate it?
- How can I organize the frame so that the appropriate content emphasizes the subject and all other content supports it?
The frame does more than include and exclude potential content; however, it plays an indispensable role in organizing that content. In The Nature of Photographs, Stephen Shore describes some of the visual outcomes of framing through an attribute he calls “flatness.” He says, “When three-dimensional space is projected monocularly onto a plane, relationships are created that did not exist before the picture was taken. . . . Any change in vantage point results in a change in these relationships” (18–19). In this concise quote, Shore touches on three important aspects of framing: vantage point, juxtaposition, and picture planes. What follows is a discussion of those three aspects of framing, because they directly affect the visual organization and hierarchy of image content.
Organizing the Frame: Vantage Point, Juxtaposition, and Picture Planes
When photographers capture an image they do so on the picture plane; that is, the flat, physical surface of the media on which the image is captured. By orchestrating the frame’s contents through careful consideration of vantage point—the distance and position of the camera in relation to the subject—the photographer dictates the hierarchy of information and the visual flow of the image.
Photo © David Beckerman, Steps of the Met , New York, 1994. In this photograph, David Beckerman uses vantage point to great advantage in framing the man’s light face and hat against the dark background, while including a secondary figure (the man’s shadow) that mimics his subject’s own form. Also, in pointing his camera downward to include the man’s broken shadow, he balances the composition and leads the eye into the bottom of the frame. www.davebeckerman.com
In choosing vantage point carefully, the photographer also changes the perceived spatial relationships among various content and dictates how three-dimensional space will be depicted in the two-dimensional image. Will the picture plane minimize the illusion of depth, or will it emphasize that illusion? The answer should depend on how the sense of depth (or lack thereof ) in the pictorial space will affect the viewer’s reading of the image. (We will take a closer look at this attribute in the section on picture planes.) In addition to creating spatial hierarchies, vantage point can assist you in communicating specific ideas about the subject or content in an image. For instance, if you were making a portrait of someone you admire, and whom you want the viewer to admire, you might adopt a lower vantage point and literally look up at the person when making the portrait, or place them above (from your vantage point) the other content in the frame; conversely, if your intent were to diminish or demean the subject of the portrait, you might literally adopt a vantage point which looks down at the person.
Additionally, by changing vantage point, the photographer organizes the way various aspects of the image content are juxtaposed—the relationship and interaction among discreet contents—and these changes alter the image structure and its subsequent meaning.
"In the field, outside the controlled confines of a studio, a photographer is confronted with a complex web of visual juxtapositions that realign themselves with each step the photographer takes. Take one step and something hidden comes into view; take another and an object in the front now presses up against one in the distance. Take one step and the description of deep space is clarified; take another and it is obscured. In bringing order to this situation, a photographer solves a picture more than composes one." (Shore, 1998, p. 23)
Juxtaposition is a key component in any language; just as words are juxtaposed with other words in order to create more complex and specific meaning, the contents of photographs are juxtaposed with other contents in order to add complexity and meaning. The work of Elliott Erwitt provides a classic example of the nature of juxtaposition; the contents within his carefully, albeit spontaneously, composed frames often reference one another in extreme or visually obvious ways in order to create the humor or irony he calls attention to. The work of Alexandre Orion uses juxtaposition as well and can be viewed in the Portfolio Pages of this chapter.
Photo © David Beckerman, Man and Woman, Subway, New York, 1993. This photograph illustrates one aspect of the nature of juxtaposition. By framing both the people whose attention is passively downward and the sign whose eyes intently peer back at us as, David Beckerman juxtaposes two contentual elements, which bring to the forefront the active nature of our own gaze upon others.
The third organizational aspect of the frame is the picture plane—the flat, physical surface on which the image is captured. When the binocular perspective of our vision is removed, one of the three primary types of spatial organization emerges onto a picture plane because of the way that three-dimensional space is ordered when flattened through a single lens perspective. The three types of picture planes are: parallel, diagonal, and overlapping. They delineate the way depth is organized in the pictorial space, and perhaps as important, they dictate the pace at which the viewer’s eyes move into and through that space to read the image.
- Parallel picture planes emphasize the two-dimensionality of the image; in them the image content is parallel to the picture plane, so there is no real sense of depth or receding space in these images. On the one hand they can be viewed as quiet and meditative, and on the other stagnant and boring. One common means of limiting or eliminating the sense of receding space in a photograph is to approach content straight on, such that from your vantage point three-dimensionality is minimized.
- Diagonal picture planes provide the sense of receding space that is created when the photographer’s vantage point is at an oblique angle to the content of the image. In this way the content forms a real or implied diagonal line through the image at an angle to the picture plane. Images framed in this way convey a sense of rapidly receding space, aided by the increased size of content in the foreground in relation to the diminishing sizes toward the background.
- Overlapping picture planes contain a sense of depth due to image content overlapping from foreground to background. In these cases, the viewer perceives space as receding due to some content being in front of other content from the camera’s point-of-view. Since overlapping occurs from the point of view of the camera, care should be taken to insure that the vantage point helps to clarify the image. Common problems of inattention to vantage point when composing overlapping picture planes include tangents (when two elements barely touch and therefore create distracting visual tension) and tonal mergers (when using black and white media in particular, two independent objects that stand apart visually due to color contrast might blend together when reduced to grayscale tonal value . . . using contrast filters designed for shooting black and white film or adjusting the separate Channels in Adobe Photoshop help prevent tonal mergers from being a problem in the final image).
Photo © David Beckerman, Become Your Dream, New York, 2005. This image uses a parallel picture plane by facing the content of the frame head-on. It creates a confrontational image, with unavoidable connections created between the background high-rise buildings and the hand-scrawled Become Your Dream graffiti in the foreground.
Photo © David Beckerman, Crossing Brooklyn Bridge, 1993. Diagonal picture plane: The image composition creates dramatic depth in receding space, since the frame’s primary content is diagonal to the picture plane. The direction of the subject’s movement toward the corner of the picture also activates the composition and leads the viewer’s eye in that direction, where we view a significant piece of secondary content—an overturned trash can.
Photo © David Beckerman, Manhattan Mall, New York, 2006. This image uses overlapping planes at varying angles in order to juxtapose content in the frame. It well describes the crowded nature of the place, allows David Beckerman to incorporate the place name in relation to other contentual elements, and gives the viewer a definite sense of spatial relationships.
Contact Sheets: Key to Choosing the Best Frame
Once the images are captured and processed, the next step is to edit, and contact sheets—prints with several thumbnail sized images printed on them—are an indispensable tool for image editing. They allow photographers to look at the sum of images they have created in printed form and choose from the group one or several that most successfully represent their ideas. The most effective contact sheets provide images large enough to view and are of good density, contrast, and color. There are many methods of editing images from contact sheets. I recommend first editing for technical quality: any images that are poorly exposed, out of focus, or have camera shake due to slow shutter speeds should be immediately eliminated—don’t try to "fix" these problems in the traditional or digital darkroom; instead, learn from your technical mistakes and don’t make the same mistakes again. Next, edit for content and formal quality: ask yourself which of those technically sound frames best convey your meaning or express your ideas about your subject. I recommend enlarging these images into work prints, hang them up, and live with them in your office or studio for a while, so that only the best images emerge in your view as successful. Your contact sheets and work prints will also reveal that even the best attempts at in-camera framing sometimes fail to produce the desired result . . . and it is then that a photographer might decide to crop.
There are great advantages to editing from high-quality printed versions of images (rather than from negatives or from digital files). It is easier to note subtle technical and formal differences from frame to frame—changes in exposure, focal length, distance, vantage point, shutter speed, and depth of field—which serve to significantly affect the image as the photographic process unfolds. In the contact sheets, the evidence of the photographer’s growing awareness and sharpening of the composition of contents from frame to frame is apparent.
Cropping: Framing After the Fact
While the ideal time to make framing decisions is with the camera in hand, it’s not always practical. For example, in making images "from the hip" a photographer might know to some extent what will be captured in the frame, but cannot predict it with certainty; or when shooting quickly in rapidly changing circumstances as photojournalists often do it’s important to capture the moment. In these cases the decision to eliminate extraneous elements initially captured near the frame edges in the traditional or digital darkroom might help to clarify meaning of the image for a viewer. Conscious cropping is a valid, and valuable, means of defining the content of a photographic frame, although many photographers choose never to crop an image in the printing stage.
The decision to exclude aspects of the original frame’s content is referred to as cropping. There are two times after image capture when photographers have the opportunity to re-define the boundaries of the image by excluding certain aspects of it. Cropping affords photographers a second chance to eliminate extraneous content from a frame prior to publication or exhibition. It can be done at either of two points after capture: during printing or during presentation. The latter, and perhaps the worst, time to crop is during presentation; that is, a photographer might choose to crop a part of an image during window matting or display if cropping decisions were neglected during the previous two opportunities. In the traditional darkroom, the most indispensable tool for precision either in printing the full-frame or cropping is a four-bladed adjustable easel. There are many brands and types of easels on the market, but those with four independently adjustable blades are best designed to control sizing, framing, and borders of the print. In the technical section of this chapter you will see a variety of techniques used to control sizing, framing, and borders of the print, and a variety of effects achievable through careful use of a four-bladed easel.
Borders: The Exterior Edge of the Frame
Even photographers who possess a practiced sense of framing and composition in-camera might be delayed in the realization that the image border—the transitional space between the image content and its surroundings—has its own significance. Perhaps because it is a boundary space, the image area’s border carries with it all the weight and connotations of any other, similar boundary. It is the space where a viewer enters, rather unconsciously most of the time, the pictorial space. In this way entering the frame is like opening a book; the quality and attention to the outside cover affect our ideas—whether consciously or unconsciously—about the book prior to our reading a word of it. As an undergraduate photography student I hadn’t thought of “carrier edge” as being anything other than sloppy craftsmanship until my professor, Jack Teemer, explained it in reference to his color photographs of children at play. Of the colorful, jaggedly inconsistent border area he said, “I wanted to suggest that this environment continues beyond the frame.” And it did! Where the image content ended, there were hints of color and detail extending beyond the interior of the frame, all visually related to the content at the edges all the way around the frame. At that moment I realized the importance of this boundary to the image, and I began to experiment with a variety of border effects in the darkroom, and to consider as part of my printmaking decisions the type of border to create (if any) in order to best carry my message about my subject.
Image © Jack Teemer, from His Series Children at Play. Creating a carrier-edge border, the artist suggested to the viewer that the world captured inside the photograph extends beyond the frame. See how to create carrier-edge borders in the next section.
Traditional Darkroom Border Techniques
In the traditional darkroom, the relationship between the inside edge of the negative carrier and the outside edge of the image area on the film determines the types of borders that are produced. The interior dimensions of standard negative carriers are made slightly smaller than the dimensions of the image area on film. Because of this, and with the help of easel blades, photographers making prints using standard negative carriers tend to produce prints with a “clean edge” almost by default; that is, assisted by the easel blades the print’s image area ends where the white space of the paper begins. If you don’t like that option for your images, some simple planning and engineering of the negative carrier can make a marked difference in the appearance of your printed image borders. See the Technical Tutorials Section for Chapter 1 for a detailed discussion of how to alter your negative carriers to produce specific effects.
In the following examples, prints made from traditional black and white negatives demonstrate several types of border effects. These border effects are some that I refer to as “organic”; that is, the borders are a natural outcome (albeit nurtured) of the interrelationship among the tonal values at the edge of the negative, the edge of the carrier, and exposure to light. I recommend making work prints with several different types of borders in order to help you to determine how these effects reflect on the subject and content of your images.
- Borderless: In this example, fine art photographer Todd Dobbs created a traditional darkroom gelatin silver print using a long strip (multiple Holga camera exposures overlapped) of 120 film placed in a glass negative carrier. The carrier was masked at the image edges using rubylith tape, and the easel blades were adjusted to be just inside the image area to create a clean edge. The resulting clean, pristine border between the image area and the paper is a somewhat default method of printing standard negative sizes. Borderless prints suggest that the border itself is inconsequential to the meaning of the image.
Image © Todd Dobbs, Buildings No. 12 , 2002.
- Fine black border: With the negative placed in a filed-out negative carrier, the easel blades are adjusted to a position just outside image area to include the film base plus fog. The width of the black border can be adjusted to anywhere inside the projected negative carrier edge. By creating a black border around the image area, the photographer tacitly points to the boundary of the image, and the viewer more consciously enters the pictorial space.
Image © Todd Dobbs, Erie Train Car, 1998.
- Vignetted borders: In addition to any of the borders that the carrier helps to create in the darkroom, you might choose to vignette the image—to darken or lighten gradually—toward its edges. To do this is simple in both the traditional and digital darkrooms, but it’s also easy to go overboard and create a poorly made vignette, so practice and technique are essential. As a supplement to the print exposure, the photographer adds density to the outer edges of the image by burning them in, or reduces density from the outer edges of the image by dodging them. The degree of the vignette is determined by the duration of the burn or dodge as well as the contrast used. Whether a standard or filed out carrier is used, when the edges of the print are vignetted, the viewer’s attention tends to remain more inside the frame.
Most often, vignetted-edge manipulations carry with them connotations of memory, traveling back in time, or projecting forward to the future. They can also allude to notions of ephemerality, ethereality, and other transitional states. The edges create a smooth visual transition into the pictorial space, allowing the viewer to enter the image and regard its contents gradually. Vignetting applied to the wrong image content can have an overly sentimental or cliché feeling, but a conscious photographer will avoid such cliché. One successful example demonstrating the visual and communicative power of vignetting is in a series entitled At Rest by fine art and portrait photographer Melissa Mercado. The images are presented as diptychs, and are the product of hybrid (combined traditional and digital) media.
Image © Melissa Mercado, #4 from Her Series At Rest, 2006.
A variation of these vignetting techniques is to vignette the border through burning, with the entire sheet of paper printed to black. To do this, an exposure set to maximum black is made to the area of photographic paper outside the image area, after the initial exposure is made. Simply place an opaque board of the size of the image on top of the image, lift the easel blades, and make the exposure to the remainder of the paper surface. Techniques such as this are often used when the treatment of the entire sheet of photographic printing paper is considered a part of the work itself. Often, prints such as these are displayed “floating” in a frame using spacers (and no window mat) or are incorporated into a larger whole.
Image © Angela Faris Belt, Dharma in a Paisley Field, 2005. Clockwise from upper left: plain border, fade to white border, vignetted border with paper printed to black, and vignetted border. The various methods used to print the borders of the final image change the feeling and intensity of the image, and affect how the viewer reads the image content.
The Digital Realm: Borders without Film Edges
With digital photographic capture, there is no physical media edge extending beyond the sensor, and so nothing extending beyond the image area with which to continue the frame’s communicative effects. As a result, many photographers have gravitated toward borderless images or the use of template borders. Template borders are prefabricated borders that are often supplied with online Photoshop tutorials and are digitally loaded into the image document and set in place. Template borders are either scanned or digitally created and often appear similar to borders such as those created through use of Polaroid Type-55 or Polaroid transfer images. While these borders are adequate for many commercial and graphic design applications, artists want to create and control the appearance of their image even to its borders.
The emphasis here is on hand-made (what I call “organic”) borders, specific to the image content itself. While the appearance of traditional darkroom borders is dictated by the physical relationship among the film edge, carrier edge, and easel blades, the appearance of digital darkroom borders is dictated in Photoshop with the primary relationship among the image size and canvas size, and the effect of image layers and blending modes on the tones occurring at the image edge. In traditional darkroom images the carrier edge is unique to each image; the potential for that same unique-to-the-image character exists for digital darkroom images with some understanding of the tools, practice, and patience.
In the Chapter 1, Technical Tutorial Section called Digital Darkroom Borders, I will attempt to lure you away from the ease of canned effects, and toward more organic and conceptually sound approaches. These are simple techniques designed to help you begin experimenting with the borders of your digital images. Once you begin to work with the tools, you’ll find that there are myriad ways to affect the look of your image borders without using canned borders. I’ll outline creating fine black borders, and creating “painted borders” using the edge tones and colors of the image itself, and applying blending modes to create a seamless transition. These tutorials offer starting points, and unlimited results can be achieved if you are willing to experiment.
Images © Angela Faris Belt. Fine black borders technique.
Images © Angela Faris Belt. Painted borders technique.
In the Introduction to this text, I suggested that you choose a specific subject or genre, and to work with it throughout the chapter exercises. You should choose a subject that will be engaging to you visually and intellectually throughout the exercises; a subject that is of interest to you and that has the potential to be of interest to others. The reason for doing this is simple: it will enable you to approach your subject in a more faceted way, guided by the grammatical elements of photography. Throughout the course of these exercises you will learn a great deal about both your subject and the elements that guide photographic language. Through critique you will begin to fully understand how the elements of photography can be manipulated to better communicate a visual message about your subject. Before commencing with the first exercise, clearly define your subject or concept and commit to conducting research about it. The more you know about your chosen subject, the more likely you are to make informed decisions about content, and the more able you are to use photography’s technical elements to guide your creation of meaningful images. For all of these exercises you may shoot traditional or digital media, color or black and white, or you might shoot an alternative media with an alternative camera. Media choice is up to you.
Exercise No. 1: Making Conscious Framing Decisions
This exercise should be used to define your subject both for yourself and for your viewers, and it should assist you in maintaining awareness of your in-camera framing decisions. Concentrate on using the imposed frame of the camera’s viewfinder to define the content of your images. For each subject or scene, make two photographs:
- Fill the frame with the subject matter. For this image, leave no area inside the frame untouched by the primary subject matter, and try your best not to abstract it. That is, frame the content such that the viewer still knows what he or she is viewing, but so that it encompasses the entire frame.
- Photograph the same subject matter so that it fills only a small (perhaps 10%) portion of the frame. For this image, secondary image content is used to support the subject and lead the viewer to it.
Understand that it will likely take several images per scene in order to achieve the two successful images for each. Study your results, and edit several images to enlarge.
Exercise No. 2: Picture Planes
Conscious structuring of content within the picture plane allows the photographer to dictate the sense of space that the three-dimensional world takes within the two-dimensional picture plane. It also dictates pace at which viewers will read the image, and the viewer’s sense of spatial relationships among various content within the image. For this exercise, make three images of each scene you photograph. Remember that it will likely take several images per picture plane in order to achieve three successful images:
- Structure the content using a parallel picture plane.
- Structure the content using a diagonal picture plane.
- Structure the content using overlapping planes.
Consider the placement of your subject matter and the way that the sense of depth (or lack thereof ) through the picture plane affects your viewer’s attention to it, their pace at reading the image, and sense of relationship between objects within the pictorial space. Remember to use a sufficiently small or large aperture to render the depth of field you need.
Exercise No. 3: Darkroom Borders Experimentation
Edit and print three identical copies of your four best images from the previous two exercises. These should be your best four images from the exercises, not comparison images from a single exercise. Using the media of your choice, create 2–3 different border effects for each image. Critique these images and determine which border effects work best with your subject and what you were trying to say about it. Determine whether this border effect might be used throughout the series of images.