Design Principles Part I: The Frame

As a photographer, you are bound to a frame, 3 x 2. Painters can change canvas size, poets can decide to not do rhymes, and singers can switch from rock to country. Photographers are bound to their frame. Learning to lay with this rule is an incredible opportunity for creativity. Another difference between painters and photographers, is that the former choose what they paint while the later must compose with what is given to them.

Here’s how.

Frame dynamics

I call this one creating movement within the static frame, looking for diagonals, fleeting lines. There is intention in this picture of Washington, the angle and the strong lines exploding out of the frame, pointing towards the future.

Frame shapes

Vertical and horizontal, for sure. But also panoramic and, why not, square! In this picture, I liked the duck and the flower in the background but cropped it on the left was part of another duck that crept into the frame when I pressed the shutter.


Find the image hidden inside a section of your image. When I took this picture, of the guitar on my photo walk with Zanna, I did not crop enough. Take a look at how cropping it in Lightroom makes a difference.



Filling the frame

You may want to leave the frame empty (see Placement, next) but please, ensure that your subject is obvious within the frame, not lost in space. These cyclists at the Montreal Grand Prix are clearly the subject.


Sure, the rule of third comes to mind, but what about negative space, or choosing to purposely place the subject way off center as in this Roman “solider” taken overhead from the Coliseum in Roma.

Horizon placement

Think of what you want to show and how much you want to show of a given landscape. Here, my intent was the storm above the Tampa bay. You need not see lots of water to figure it out; this is why I decided to lower the horizon.

Frame within a frame

A classic which, if not overdone, works every time. Here, from under the arches, a picture of the Sienna Duomo in Italy.

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3 Responses to Design Principles Part I: The Frame

  1. Pingback: Design Principles: A Photography Tutorial and Homage to Michael Freeman |

  2. Jeremy says:

    Fantastic article with great examples – thanks

  3. Pingback: Design Principles Part II: Design |

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