Behind the Lens: Framing can turn boring photos into good ones

Sunday, June 2, 2013

I mentioned in my last column that two basic skills are required in capturing good photographs.

One involves the technical and mechanical aspects of operating a camera — getting the proper focus and exposure. The second ingredient is the creative element.

To accomplish this, a photographer needs to acquire some resourceful tricks and techniques. Where you stand to take a photograph, how you compose your shot and when you choose to press the shutter button are decisions you make when taking a photograph.

Each provides creative opportunities if you are aware of a few techniques. One of the simplest has to do with the way you frame a subject.

Because a photograph can only be a one-dimensional representation of a subject, many photographs tend to look flat and lack dimension and depth. A creative visual device to overcome this problem is to incorporate elements in your scene, other than your main subject, that fill empty space or add content around your subject. This added foreground or background content layers the image and creates a sense of depth.

If you were to photograph the Campanile on the Kansas University campus, you might simply turn your camera vertically, fill your frame with the monument and snap the photo. You would get a fairly accurate, but probably boring, representation of the landmark.

Instead, if you considered other visual elements to incorporate into your composition, you might create a far more interesting image.

When I photograph something like the Campanile or any landmark, landscape or famous site, I look for elements to add to the edges of my composition. In the case of the Campanile, you could walk to a spot beneath or beside a tree in the vicinity and use branches and leaves to compose in the frame and fill in around the monument.

This visual device goes a long way to adding interest and dimension to an otherwise boring photograph.

Here are a few tips when using this composing technique:

• Keep your focus and base your exposure on the main subject and not on the elements you place around the subject. Out-of-focus items around a main subject can be visually interesting.

• You do not need to center your main subject. But it is good to have objects other than your subject surround, lead to or angle toward the subject. Don’t let framing objects disrupt the subject.

• Both wide-angle and telephoto lenses can be used, although it is easier to work with wide-angle because they provide a wider field of view to incorporate framing devices.