Framing is a critical element to photography composition. Framing leads the eyes and highlights the subject, but also provides a sense of depth and add rich contextual layers to a photograph. Purposefully practicing the technique helps the photographer develop an innate sense of composition that becomes second nature.

Photographer Ben Pecka on the train tracks near Nicollet Island, Minneapolis, MN.

The above photograph utilizes framing in a couple of ways. Tracks serve as leading lines to guide the eye towards the subject. The train underpass highlights the subject by creating a frame around them. Slightly zooming out shows, including environmental context by capturing the graffiti on the left. However, in many cases, filling the frame creates an ideal composition.

There are many ways to effectively use framing to improve photography composition. Subsequently, using them in combination with other techniques makes for some powerful imagery.

Utilizing foreground elements

The Minneapolis skyline as viewed from the 24th St. pedestrian bridge.

Using elements in the foreground is a strong way to frame the subject and offer context to an image. Therefor it is also the easiest and most common method.

The above photo utilizes a literal frame as a way to draw the viewer’s eye into the Minneapolis skyline. Similar to distance framing (discussed below), this photograph tells a story and provides additional context, while also making the subject clear and prominent. Chain-link fence shows the freeways below and provides a clear view of what surrounds the skyline without detracting from the central focus of the photograph.

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, near the location where in 1680, Father Louis Hennepin first sighted and named St. Anthony Falls in the early days of settlement in Minneapolis.

Using similar compositional techniques, employing lines and symmetry to draw the viewer’s eye to the top of the chapel. Lines frames the subject more subtly, while the buildings on the side frame a bit more obviously. The contrasted lighting between the buildings and church in the middle also help to bring the eye to the part of the picture that is most visible.

Selective Focus

With selective focus, otherwise known as a shallow depth of field, a photographer blurs out the background and holds a crisp focus on the subject.

This photo illustrates the use of selective focus, forcing the balloons to pop out from a busy background behind them. The contrast in the colors also strongly draws the eyes towards the subject and pulls the context out of the photo, controlling the viewer’s focus. The soft background offers a subdued effect that surrounds the subject and draws the viewer’s eyes to only that subject.

In addition, photographers use selective focus heavily in portrait photography.

Distance Framing

The French architect of The Basilica of St. Mary, Emmanuel Masqueray, was also the architect commissioned for the St. Paul Cathedral near downtown St. Paul.

Finally, with objects in the distance, framing may be necessary to guide the viewer’s attention. When the subject is further away, it is not be possible to fill the frame. Using foreground elements effectively highlights subjects and gives view a direct sense of where to look.

Most importantly, using frames draw the viewer’s eye towards an inaccessible object in the distance. Here, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis is outlined by thick trees. There is an obvious context that can be drawn from this photo. Pine trees are abundant throughout adjacent Loring Park, which is not close enough to fill the frame with the building without utilizing these added elements. Using framing in this scenario is a great way to illustrate distance, add environmental context, and provide additional information to the viewer.

Can you describe more subtle techniques for framing? How have you used framing in your photography? Post details in the comments! If you are looking for some framing inspiration, check out these 10 additional examples with explanations.


  1. Thanks a lot, Karen. It was fun exploring around to find some new shots for this piece. In the process, I had learned that I took a photo of the church where my parents married ages ago, haha.

  2. Thank you! That’s an awesome spot to shoot at night, also. Just lower the shutter speed and you get a nice blur effect with headlights in traffic.

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