Photography composition: Framing the shot

Sometimes you have to create an image that captures a somewhat uninspiring subject, but still make it look interesting. So what do you do?

I came across this situation when I was trying to take a photo of the building I lived in for a short time in Sydney (Hordern Towers). The building itself was a concrete box, just like thousands of others all around the world.

How did I create a somewhat interesting image of it? I chose to use some creative framing to capture it.

Horden 1

At the foot of the building was an open square surrounded by fashion stores, but the square was on a number of terraced levels connected by stairs that ran up the centre. On one level was a sculpture inspired by a Chinese dragon circled its way around the stairs. As soon as I laid eyes on it I knew I had my photo. I got down low so that the spiralling length of the dragon encapsulated the building. It’s strong colour and twisting, curved lines contrasted with the rigid form of the tower and brought interest and a sense of dynamic movement that an image of the building alone would never have had. It draws your eyes through the image, but it does not draw attention away from the building. Instead it ensures you see the building. Your attention is captured by the total composition. At least mine is, even if it is my own photo!

So if you’re struggling to make your subject look interesting, try stepping back. While Capa said “If your photos aren’t any good you’re not close enough”, another Magnum photographer Chien Chi Chang once told me to go wider – to step back and get more in the image. Sometimes it can bring more value to the shot than if you get closer and cut it out.

I feel the two images below are examples of this.

Chinese Sweat Shoppette?

In this image of a small sweatshop in China, I could have gotten in close to the workers to show the concentration on their faces and you would have been able to see their expressions more clearly. But instead, I felt that the piles of clothes in front of them added to the story and so made the image more interesting. I believe the clothes actually make this image, as if you look at the people alone, there’s not enough there to really hold anyone’s interest.

The ascent

In this one of my wife climbing the stairs behind a temple on White Cloud Mountain in Guangzhou, I could have gotten much closer and you would have seen the texture of the stairs and rocks, along with my wife’s amazing figure in much more detail (and there’s no disputing that I like to appreciate that figure close up), but the impact of adding the gate is undisputable. It creates a visually striking frame around the subject (Jade) and creates a sense of place. Otherwise, that could be stairs anywhere.

So enclosing your subject with some other parts of the surrounding environment can really add a lot to your final shot. While none of the photos above are gonna win any prizes, framing the subjects with more of their surroundings has made the images a whole lot better than they would have been had I cropped them out by zooming closer.

If you’re new to photography, hopefully this will give you a few ideas to go and try to improve your images. If you’re not, it’d be great to see some examples of where you’ve applied similar approaches to create some cool photos. Feel free to post links to your shots below – sharing is caring!