On the Edges

Today I want to talk a bit about framing. Not about the process of putting a picture in a frame, but about taking an excerpt of one‘s surrounding and making a picture out of it. In photography, they way you do this determines the quality of your art. Together with pressing the shutter at the right time, of course. Photography is easy *1), you just need to get two things right.
Let‘s leave the decisive moment aside for now and think about framing. Most photographs have a main subject that has a discernible form, a describing silhouette. Yes, I am again excluding a lot of pictures and styles, but bear with me here.
This subject can be positioned in the frame in three distinct ways:
The subject rests within a bed of environment, background, context. This non-subject matter gets enough space so that the subject can breathe.



Composition rules like the rule of thirds may be applied, but can be disregarded as well. In this way, composition can be balanced or unbalanced, but the relationship between subject and context is always resting, self-assured. The subject presents itself in a calm manner, it‘d be hard to insinuate tension here.
Now this one is interesting, mainly because it sits at the divide between the other two, undecided where it will go, in tension. Lines in the composition graze at the borders of the frame asymptotically.
Architecture holds still long enough for that, if you're not HCB.

Architecture holds still long enough for that, if you’re not HCB.

This draws the eye away from the center of the frame, where you‘d mostly find the subject. There‘s your tension right there, and you‘d need a mighty attractive subject or an interesting composition to make this work. Main compositional lines should not intersect the borders at (about) a right angle, that‘d give an exploding effect.
Now here we are in Robert Capa‘s territory: „ If your pictures are not good enough, you weren‘t close enough.“ Interesting statement for a dead war photographer. Anyway, now you‘ve framed too close, but then again, you didn‘t get it wrong. By cutting the silhouette of your subject with the borders of the frame, you enter the domain of the innuendo, the uncertain. Your picture is deliciously out of balance and could well go on and on beyond the borders of the frame. You know how they say that successful art happens in the viewer‘s head? Here‘s an example of that!
(Example’s coming, I’ll have to look one up on the main computer)
And how do you decide between these modes of framing? With your feet, and your eyes telling them when to stop walking. Zooming is lame and only allowed prior to walking. I mean it, mainly because the focal length influences perspective, too.

*1) No, it isn‘t.

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