When we look at a scene, we are seeing it in 3D. Then we take the photo and it’s reproduced on a computer screen or piece of paper. This can produce a flat and dull version of what we saw. How can we keep a sense of depth in the scene? How can we avoid our photos looking flat and boring? One answer is to use framing to add depth to your photos.
The frame should not be the subject
When you approach a scene to shoot, one of your jobs is to tell your viewer what to look at. Unless the frame is an important part of the photo, it shouldn’t be in focus. Keep the focus for the subject.
For this shot of a canoe at a summer camp in Vermont, I wanted to emphasize the uniqueness of the white canoe. All of the other canoes at the camp were green. So, I used framing to add depth and to highlight the white canoe. Because the frame of green canoes is out of focus, your eye is immediately drawn to the white canoe.
A low aperture number (f/4.0) helped to create a shallow depth of field. I also had to tell the camera to focus on the white canoe. The camera’s auto focus wanted to choose the green canoes in the foreground.
One of my favorite restaurants in Seoul was a conveyor belt sushi bar. There were so many photo opportunities! For this photo of two chefs, I shot over and through the moving food, using framing to add depth to the scene. Again, I used a low f/stop number of f/4.0 and focused on the chefs.
What about using a high f/stop number?
Colonial Williamsburg has a famous breeding program for Devon cattle. These docile beasts make wonderful subjects. I’m never sure where I’ll find them in Williamsburg, but when I see them, I am definitely drawn to get a photo.
In this case, I wanted to use the rustic fence for framing to add depth to the scene. I shot at f/14, which is why the field is completely in focus. However, I wanted the fence to be out of focus. How did I do this? I focused on the cattle and stood very close to the fence. In fact, I shot through icicles hanging from it, and they almost disappear because I was so close.
When I visited Roussillon in Provence, France a couple of years ago, I climbed up to a high area to get a shot looking at the rooftops. Since this town is famous for its ochre cliffs and the ochre color of the buildings, I wanted to highlight these. By framing the scene with nearby out-of-focus plants, I was able to add depth to the photo. I shot at f/11 but stood very close to the plants.
Some details to keep in mind when you use framing to add depth to a scene
As you can see from these four photos, there is no magic f/stop number.
Here are some tips for framing without the frame becoming the subject.
The first step is to decide on what part of the subject you want to be in focus. Sometimes, this might be just an animal or person’s eyes. Other times, you may want more to be in focus. You can control this with your f/stop and how close you are to the subject.
You will have to tell the camera what to focus on. The auto focus often wants to focus on whatever is closest to the camera. You’ll need to be out of Auto mode to do this.
Finally, remember that you will need to be very close to the frame if you want it to be out of focus when using a deep depth of field (high f/stop number).
Now it’s your turn.
Here’s an idea for using framing to add depth to your photos. You can even practice this inside. Try shooting through the branches of a house plant inside or a shrub outdoors.
To start out, set your camera to Aperture mode and set a low f/stop number like f/4 or f/5.6. Now, place something that will be your subject on the far side of the house plant. This is where practice comes in. Choosing one focus point, place it on your subject and practice shooting through the branches and throwing them out of focus.
Want to know more?
I love teaching people how to use their cameras, and I’ll be teaching my camera course online this winter. Be sure to sign up for my mailing list to learn about it when it launches. You’ll also get a free guide and checklist to the seven simple but important things you should always have with you when you are using your camera.
You might also enjoy this blog post which features another photo of the conveyor belt sushi bar: Take Better Food Photos
To learn more about the Devon cows, you can read this fascinating article from Colonial Williamsburg.