In this guide, we’ll be exploring images that utilize the frame within a frame composition technique.
Prefer a video? Check out the video I made on this topic:
While you can utilize this composition technique in mediums outside of photography such as film and design – I’ll be focusing on photography primarily since I am a photographer.
If successfully implemented, images that utilize the frame within a frame composition technique are very unique and can easily stand out among other photos.
In fact, many award-winning photos implement this composition technique:
It’s a simple, but effective photography composition technique.
This is great if you want to gain views to your image if you post photos to social media or if you publish your photos on another medium such as a blog, a magazine, or within other digital platforms.
The beauty of images that utilize the frame within a frame technique is that it’s a fairly easy composition technique to use!
With that being said, let’s dive into what it is, how to produce an image that follows the frame within a frame composition, why this technique is often used, when to use this technique, when to not use it, and some example ideas.
Table of Contents
What is a Frame Within a Frame?
A frame within a frame is a composition technique that places a subject within a framing object within the main frame.
Before taking a closer look at this definition, it’s important that you first understand what a frame is – which is a structure or enclosing that surrounds or encloses something.
In order to better understand this definition, let’s dissect the sentence above, starting first with what a composition technique means.
A photography composition technique is a technique that an artist uses to compose their image or work of art, usually following techniques that have been proven to be aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.
There are many photography composition techniques and a frame within a frame is just one of them.
The next part of our sentence deals with placing a subject within a framing object.
Within any image, there is usually a subject or main focal point that the viewer should be drawn to – or else the image is lifeless.
Examples of subjects could include hills on a mountain, the sun, a person, an animal, etc.
The framing object the subject should be placed within can include anything that acts like a frame such as a doorway, a window, arches, etc.
The subject along with the framing object should be placed within the main frame – which is the framing of the image itself and how it’s cropped.
Now that we know what a frame within a frame is, let’s dive into how to make an image that follows the frame within a frame composition.
How do You Make a Frame Within a Frame Photos?
When it comes to composing an image that follows the frame within a frame technique, it’s fairly easy and mostly requires planning and preparation.
I’ve identified five main steps when it comes to composing and capturing an image that successfully captures the frame within a frame technique.
1. Know Your Image Layers
The first step is to first know and understand your image layers.
The layers in an image usually consist of a foreground, a middle-ground, and a background.
Not all images utilize all three layers, but in an image that follows the frame within a frame composition, it’s important to know your layers as you will most likely be using one of these layers as your framing object.
It’s important to know the different layers in an image because knowing the layers of a photo is important in frame within a frame photography. Layers allow the photographer to create a sense of depth and dimension in the image. We’ll be coming back to this concept later in the article.
By using foreground, middle ground, and background elements, the photographer can create a visual hierarchy that guides the viewer’s eye through the scene and highlights the main subject.
Additionally, using layers can create a sense of scale and context, helping the viewer to understand the relative size and distance of the elements in the image. This technique can add interest, depth, and drama to an image and bring more attention to the main subject.
2. Find Framing Objects
The second step after picking a subject is to find a framing object.
Examples of framing objects could include doorways, arches, windows, poles, trees, bars, etc.
Anything that frames your subject will work well as a framing object. It’s also important to note that the framing object does not only have to be a square or a rectangle, nor does it have to encapsulate the subject on four sides (top, bottom, left, right).
Bonus: If you can find a framing object that helps further enhance the story of the image to create juxtaposition, then the better.
For example, in this object, the main subject is the older building but the framing objects are newer skyscrapers — symbolizing time, modernization, and corporatization of the world.
Once you’ve found a suitable framing object, it’s time to move to step three.
3. Pick a Subject
The third step is to pick a subject. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the subject will serve as the main focal point and the anchor of the image.
Knowing what the subject is will allow us as photographers to then find the rest of the elements that will work with the subject.
For example, if our subject is a hill in a landscape photo, then we may choose to frame them with surrounding trees. Or if our subject is a person on a street, then we may choose to frame them with light poles or street lights.
When picking a subject or focal point for frame within a frame photography, there are a few things to consider:
- The subject should be well-defined and distinct. Avoid subjects that are too busy or cluttered, as they can be distracting and take away from the overall composition.
- The subject and the framing object should make relational sense.
- Think about the lighting. The lighting should be in a way that it brings out the subject and the frame within a frame.
- Think about the background. The background should be in a way that complements the subject and the frame within a frame.
- Think about the color. The color of the subject and the frame within a frame should be in a way that they complement each other.
The subject and the framing objects need to be aligned in order to be able to compose an image that follows a frame within a frame while also producing an image that still conveys emotion.
For example, the framing objects I used in this image were the pillars underneath the pier and I found my subject to be a surfer:
This leads us to our next step.
4. Manage the Distance and Depth
The fourth step is to manage distance and depth.
What I mean by managing distance and depth, is to pay attention to the “distance” between the main frame, the framing object, and the subject and the depth this distance creates.
This concept goes back to the concept of layers that I discussed earlier with the foreground, middle-ground, and background.
If there is no sense of depth within the image, then it could end up feeling very bland.
You will want to do this/look for this before placing your subject within the framing object and taking a photo.
Managing distance in a frame within a frame photo can be achieved through the use of different techniques, such as:
- Using different focal lengths: A wide-angle lens will make the background appear closer to the subject, while a telephoto lens will compress the background and make it appear further away.
- Playing with perspective: By positioning the camera at different angles and heights, you can create the illusion of depth and distance in the image.
- Using depth of field: A shallow depth of field will make the subject stand out by blurring the background and foreground, creating the illusion of distance between the subject and the framing object.
- Using leading lines: Leading lines are lines in an image that lead the viewer’s eye to the subject. By using leading lines, you can guide the viewer’s eye through the image and create the illusion of depth and distance.
- Using foreground elements: By including foreground elements in the image, you can create the illusion of depth and distance. This can also make the image more interesting and dynamic.
- Using layers: By including different layers in the image, you can create the illusion of depth and distance. This can also make the image more interesting and dynamic.
- Move your body: If you are still having trouble finding elements in your current scene to add depth, then move to a different location and use a different framing object or move to a different spot that still uses the same framing object but different foreground or background elements.
I mentioned this step before the final step because if you have a framing object and a subject but find that there is not much “depth” to the image, then you will want to take into consideration these different ways to achieve depth.
5. Put your Subject Within the Framing Object
The fifth and final step is to place your subject within the framing object. Ideally, you will want the subject to be in the middle of the framing object.
This is because framing in itself is another composition technique that has to be remembered.
If the subject is not in the middle of the framing object, it could throw off the spacing and overall composition of the image.
Here is an example of a mistimed shot where I couldn’t get the subject in the middle of the framing object and he is too far to the left:
Here is an example where I was able to get the subject in the middle of the framing object:
Of course, if they are slightly to the right or to the left then it’s fine, but you don’t want them to be too far left or too far right.
Once your subject is within the framing object, then it’s up to your subject or you as a photographer to figure out what the subject is doing in terms of posing – a topic for another day.
Why are Frame Within a Frame Shots Used?
As mentioned earlier, frame within a frame images are often used because they often stand out among other photos.
There’s something about a good photo that employs the frame within a frame technique that makes you look at the photo and ask yourself “what about this photo is making me look at it?”
When to Use a Frame Within a Frame?
If you’re trying to create a unique-looking image that is also visually appealing at the same time, then using an image that follows this technique is the way to go.
Frame within frame images are great at directing the viewer’s focus to the subject or certain focal point while also establishing a desired perspective.
When to Not Use a Frame Within a Frame?
We’ve discussed when to use a frame within a frame, but is there anytime when you shouldn’t?
The answer is yes.
I’ve briefly touched on this earlier, but the framing object that the subject is in should align with the subject and “make sense.” It shouldn’t be a random framing object that feels like it was forced into the photo. It should feel natural.
For example, if you are in an office setting and your subject is a worker in the office, example framing objects could be office doors or windows.
Another example is if you are in a forest setting, then your framing objects could be surrounding trees or animals.
What you don’t want to do is introduce an artificial framing object that feels forced such as poles you brought or a random object you brought in to act as a framing object such as an unnatural window frame.
Remember, the frame within the frame should act as more than just an aesthetic function, but as an element in the image to further enhance the story and its intended conveyed emotions.
Frame Within a Frame Photography Examples
Why are frame within a frame shots used?
Images that follow a frame within a frame composition technique often stand out due to their visual appeal. It is a common composition technique used in both photography and cinema.
What are 3 objects you could use to create frame within a frame?
Example objects that can be used include trees, gates, a road, fences, windows, etc.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer based in Southern California. Outside of photography, Nate specializes in SEO, content marketing, and entrepreneurship. He is also the founder of Imaginated.com, a platform for creator education.