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Composition: How to Frame a Photo

Greetings fellow photographers! In this installment we are going to examine photo composition and provide a few tips and tricks for framing your summer vacation photos. Summer may be winding down, but many people use the late summer season as a chance to leave their daily lives behind and explore some of the many wonders our world has to offer. Whether it’s a family road trip or a solo backpacking adventure, the summer vacation has become a longstanding American tradition. There is no better way to document your trip than by taking pictures. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when shooting your vacation masterpieces:

Let your camera focus, then adjust your framing. Many people are not aware that they can lock in their auto focus before they actually take the photograph. Most cameras will automatically focus on the center spot in a photo, but the center may not necessarily be the most interesting area. Next time you shoot a photo, center in on your subject, push the button only halfway down, and hold it there. This will lock in the focus. Then, recompose your photo; move the subject left, right, up, or down, and take the shot. For scenic photos, lock in your focus with the horizon line centered, then shift it down to show more sky, or up to show more foreground. The same concept applies when photographing people; an off-center person or group is more interesting than a completely centered subject. As we all know, a centered human being is not all it’s cracked up to be!

Give your subject some space! We’ve all heard horror stories of people accidentally losing their digital photos. Imagine this: you book the family on a whale watching excursion, and after several cloudy hours, the sun breaks through and creates a perfect rainbow. You place your family in the foreground, and at that moment, a humpback whale surfaces in the background. You snap the photo, no one blinks, and you have a perfect shot of your family on the ocean with a humpback whale and a rainbow in the background. A few days later, you pull out your camera to show Uncle Joe the incredible shot you took, and you accidentally press Erase All, deleting your perfect whale shot, along with all the other photos from the trip. Now, you may be thinking, “That won’t happen to me.” Famous last words! Why take the risk?

Use natural framing to your advantage. Take a moment to examine any elements you can use to create a natural frame. For example, a low-hanging branch can help frame a scenic shot, a weathered door can add spice to a portrait, and a patch of grass surrounded by a field of wildflowers can help isolate your subject. Natural frames are everywhere – see what you can find!

Draw attention to your subject using linear objects. Our eyes naturally follow lines in a photo. For instance, a child leaning up against a fence post can make for a beautifully subtle photograph. By including some of the fence line in the foreground, you set up a natural arrow straight toward the child. A long stretch of railroad tracks can be the perfect pointer to a majestic mountain range. Examine your surroundings and see if you can use any linear objects in this way.

Look at the big picture. Before you shoot a photo, take a look at the entire area through the viewfinder. Sometimes in the excitement of capturing a fantastic photo, we forget to look at everything happening in the background. A bright red stop sign can ruin a beautiful portrait of Grandma by taking the attention away from her. You may see something that was not obvious before, and you’ll want to make adjustments. Take a knee, move around, or change angles. Did you mean to include all that dead space above your subject? If not, zoom in tighter and reshoot the photo. Or, perhaps you were already zoomed in too tight; zoom out and reshoot to include the vast surroundings and make a statement about how small we really are in nature’s grand scheme.

The basic lesson here is to be aware of your surroundings when framing your photos. Summer vacation shots often find their way to your desk at work or hung in the family room at home. Impress people with your composition skills. Play around with these ideas a bit and see what works for you. After a little bit of practice you’ll find it will start to come naturally. Remember that a great photograph captures not only the subject, but the way the subject interacts with the setting.

Well, that does it for now. Next time we’ll wrap up our Summer Series by talking about back to school photos that even the kids will enjoy! See you then!

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