Finding a good composition is one of the hardest aspects of photography and while there are thousands of books on the subject, most of them seem to focus on the same compositional techniques such as The Rule of Thirds, The Golden Ratio, and use of leading lines.
These are all important techniques to understand but I’m surprised that most guides forget to mention one simple but powerful compositional technique: natural framing.
Why is this technique so rarely spoken about? Is it just so simple to implement that it’s easy to forget how powerful it can be?
Let’s take a closer look at why and how to implement natural framing in landscape photography, and how you can use this powerful technique to create a stronger and more impactful composition.
#1 Accentuate the main subject
The main reason you want to use a natural framing in landscape photography is to accentuate the main subject of your image.
Natural framing can be done in many ways. In the image above, I used the surrounding trees to frame the slightly more illuminated tree in the middle. The combination of luminosity differences and focal distances helps accentuate the main subject.
The image below is another example of how using a natural frame accentuates the main subject of your photo. In this case, the clouds and fog beautifully surround one of the many majestic peaks found in Norway.
Without the clouds and fog, the peak wouldn’t have looked as impressive and would’ve blended more in with the surroundings.
The clouds are framing the peak, meaning that this is where our eyes will naturally land. In a way, the viewer is forced to rest their eyes on the peak itself. Had the clouds not been included, the eyes would quickly bounce around to the negative space in the sky.
#2 Increase depth by framing a subject
Another important factor when using natural frames in landscape photography is that it increases the depth of your photo. Let’s use the previous photo as an example again; without the clouds, the image would’ve looked flat and most likely quite boring. With the clouds there, we’ve increased the depth and it’s almost like the mountain is ‘popping’ out of the image.
There’s a common misconception that depth through natural framing can only be done when using a tele zoom lens. This is not true. It’s perfectly possible to increase the depth even when using an ultra-wide-angle lens.
The image above is an example of how it’s possible to create a natural framing even at a wider focal length. I captured this image using the ultra-wide Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 at its widest.
By getting low and close to the foreground boulders (which required me to focus stack the image for optimal sharpness) I was able to use them as part of a natural frame. Combined with the darker cliffs on both the left and right sides, it helped emphasize the waterfall and create additional depth.
Had I instead used a higher perspective and longer focal length, the image would’ve lacked depth and appeared flat. The framing would’ve also been gone and there wouldn’t have been much emphasis on the main subject, leading to the viewers eyes searching around the shot without a natural place to rest.
#3 Use frames to force stronger compositions
Using a natural framing in landscape photography can be a powerful way of creating a stronger composition that better guides the viewer’s eyes through the image. One of the great benefits of this technique is that you’re able to ‘force’ a strong composition.
Personally, I prefer to use a natural framing whenever there’s too much open space in the sky or a lack of interesting foreground to use. As you might have picked up by now, it helps guide the viewer’s eyes towards the main subject.
The picture above is a typical example of when natural framing improves the composition. Without the branches ‘stretching’ into the image, there would’ve been too much ‘empty’ space in the sky and less focus on the foreground and background waterfalls.
Now don’t get me wrong. Negative space is a great compositional technique in itself and sometimes an image will benefit from not having a frame. This just proves that compositional techniques shouldn’t be viewed as rules but guidelines. The hard truth is that there’s no one right technique for each and every image.
Examples of how to use natural framing for landscape photography
I know that many of you prefer a slightly more visual explanation of how to use natural framing in landscape photography, so here are a few more examples where this technique has been applied.
Note that some of the frames have been enhanced by working on their luminosity in post-processing.Have you ever used this technique on your images? I challenge you to within the next couple of days to capture at least one image where you use a natural framing and share it with us in the comments below!