The Power of the Frame

June 30, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Long ago, I trained my self to think in terms of visualizing framing my subjects. Practicing this skill has served me well over the decades. At this point in my development it has become a reflex that I rely on without much effort. This was not always the case, as I had to practice to acquire this skill.

Looking at a scene, being attracted to parts of it, and composing a photograph in my viewfinder took practice to learn to do well. I spent more time in the darkroom than in the field when I began my journey of photography. In those days I printed contact sheets of every roll of film I exposed. I studied those contact sheets and refreshed my in camera editing. I readily saw the progression of thought that each frame captured. I was fortunate in that my Dad was an accomplished photographer of seascapes. He emphasized to me the importance of spending time studying each frame I exposed, and why I chose that composition. He showed me that I could use two cardboard L's to practice crop images on my contact sheet to improve the composition by eliminating unimportant elements that did not support the subject. I then took a marker and drew a frame on the photograph that I would print out later in my darkroom.

Placing a frame around a subject gives the image power. It eliminates visual elements that distract from the photographers vision. The approach that has always worked for me was to think in terms of what can I remove from the scene to make it more powerful. Our eyes focus on an object of interest, but they also include everything in the periphery. Our brain has the ability to block out what we don't consider important. This is a survival trait we've developed early on. The camera, on the other hand, will render all that is included in the viewfinder. When I began creative photography I was frequently surprised by the scope of what I included in the viewfinder when I edited my shoot. Learning editing skills payed off, and as time went on my “keepers” outnumbered the rejects.

As time progresses, the framing skills you worked hard at teaching yourself begin to form patterns. These patterns reflect how you tend to visualize the world in your viewfinder. Other people recognize this as your style. It is the frame that is the one element that brings everything together. The power of the frame strengthens the decisions I've made about things like, depth of field, color or black and white, wide angle or close up, composition, and other things as well.

The way I decide to frame an image changes the way the viewer of the photograph interprets that image. By selective framing the photographer has the power to imply meaning to their work that otherwise might not even be present at the time it was captured. This is extremely liberating, and emphasizes the fact that things are not always the way they are, but how we see them can be fluid and subject to manipulation. Framing a photograph facilitates a photographer's vision, however, the person viewing the work also contributes to the process and its interpretation, they in essence become a partner in the process. There once was a time when people considered a photograph, evidence of truth. The common accepted thought was, “the camera never lies”. Well truth be told, the camera always lied, it is just easier these days to pull off a lie. A wonderful inspiring landscape can be a distortion of reality. A photograph created to produce an emotion. It does not have to be accurate. Evidence photographed to be part of the judicial system must be accurate, as should scientific or journalistic work. The simple act of framing a photograph is not as simple as one might imagine. All of us that work behind the camera have opinions, biases, and sometimes an agenda. How we frame an image is affected by our individual humanity. The power of the frame is underestimated, quiet, and overlooked.     


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