Saturday, June 14, 2014

Composition: Fill the Frame

The concept of "Fill the Frame" is the third composition topic this month for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge. (Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.) The previous topics this month were the Rule of Thirds and Leading Lines.

Composition: Fill the Frame | Boost Your Photography

What is the Frame and Why Fill It?

Here, the frame refers to the edges of your photograph or the edges of the viewfinder of your camera when you are shooting. The advice to fill the frame means to get in close, to make your subject a significant portion of the final photograph.

This advice is articulated in a lot of different ways, most recently in the admonishment to beginning photographers to "Get close. Then get closer." (This particular wording featured third in the recent article The Most Valuable Photography Tips Ever on Digital Photography School. Check it out for some other great composition and photography advice.) As Valerie explains, "Photographers tend to leave too much ‘stuff’ around their subject. The viewer gets lost in the chaos and doesn’t know where to look. Less is often more."

Fill the frame encourages you, as a photographer, to really spend some time thinking about your subject and how best to feature that subject in your photograph. How can you bring forward the details or the patterns or the most critical element(s) of your subject? How does the background add to or take away from the story that you are trying to tell?

Fill the Frame: Get Closer to Your Subject | Boost Your Photography

Once you think you can answer those questions, compose and take your photograph. Then get closer, whether by zooming in your lens or moving yourself physically closer with your feet. Take another photograph. Compare the two and see whether filling the frame made a difference for your composition in that situation.

A good tip for whether you have filled the frame - does your subject spill out of the frame and beyond the bounds of your photograph? If so, then you are truly beginning to fill the frame.

Fill the Frame: examples

The following collection of shots walks you through the process of identifying a subject and then continuing to explore that subject photographically while trying to consider filling the frame.

My initial impulse after encountering this incredible field of sunflowers was to get the wide angle shot above. This photograph establishes the context of the subject - the farm house, the size of the field, and the darkening clouds in the sky. The sunflowers themselves, however, are only a small portion of the entire image. Now to think about filling the frame.

I decided to narrow my composition down to a cluster of sunflowers, and I chose to zoom with my feet as well as with my lens. I moved in closer to the sunflowers and got down lower, to better emphasize their height. This lower shooting position also helped simplify the composition and emphasized the contrast between the bright colors of the sunflowers and the darker colors of the clouds. (This follows another of my favorite pieces of photography advice - Remember the Background and Move Your Feet.)

But I could still get closer. Next I narrowed the composition even further to a single sunflower. Here I used the off-center placement favored by the Rule of Thirds to feature the flower and the bee I had discovered busily crawling around inside. I used a longer focal length on my zoom lens (around 220 mm in this case) and a wider aperture to isolate the flower from the background and to render the background sunflowers as bokeh blur. (Read more about What a Wide Aperture Can Do for You.)

Yet there was still closer to go. Now my zoom lens was racked out to its farthest focal length (270 mm), and the center of the sunflower so filled the frame of my viewfinder that it spilled off out of the frame on two sides. My subject was no longer 'field of sunflowers' or 'group of sunflowers' or even 'sunflower.' It had become bee and sunflower and pattern and color and more.

Summary: Fill the Frame

Now, I am not saying that "Fill the Frame" is advice that makes sense in every photographic situation. That last photograph might not have even been your personal favorite of the series. But what matters is the process of photographic exploration and a willingness to experiment with composition. There are many, many situations where you can improve your photograph by getting closer, by moving in, and by filling the frame. By keeping that possibility in the back of your mind when shooting, you may find yourself making and capturing photographs you might not have taken before. And you may be impressed by what you find! (Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)

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