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Natural Photo Frames: Using Lines and Borders Around Us

From lines in nature and urban settings to architectural elements and windows, there are frames around us that you can use to compose your photographs.

The world has many natural frames, waiting for you to use.

— Laura Cook

Last week, photographer Laura Cook shared her insights on visual storytelling and creating single images that tell rich stories. In one of her tips, she suggests: frame your stories. From doors to windows, consider backdrops that add interesting visual lines, shapes, and frames within your images.

I’ve compiled some interpretations of natural frames, using some of my favorite snapshots from my travels.

Architecture

From traditional doorways to uniquely shaped openings, and massive columns to grand buildings, you’ll find frames — geometric and rounded — everywhere you go, especially as you wander the streets of cities.

Ask your subject to stand in front of a door. Or, open the door and place the person you’re photographing in the middle, or leaning against one side, or sitting on the ground.

Think about the space that’s created in between. Consider the different areas within your frame, created by lines, borders, and shapes. Try capturing someone walking between two columns (or a long hallway of columns, as shown above). Or, frame an object inside two things, or — as seen in the image of Lisbon’s Elevador de Santa Justa above — place a smaller building in between two others.

Arches photograph well, too, with or without subjects underneath them:

Arches at historic Fort Point in San Francisco, California.

Nature

You’ll find all kinds of frames in nature and in the wild — from your stroll in the park to your visit to a swimming hole. Look for leaves and plants draped over a scene, which might make an image more interesting:

Or pay attention to lines and curves in branches and tree trunks, which double as borders and points of reference for a variety of photographs:

A couple poses on the grounds of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, California.

In addition to flora, look out for slopes and hills as lines to frame and guide your shots. Or even rock formations, which can frame your images in awesome ways:

Out at sea at Vang Vieng floating village in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Windows and mirrors

Fun with windows and mirrors: Find inspiration in previous photo challenges, like Jared Bramblett’s guest challenge “Reflections” and my “Window” challenge. See how other bloggers have used these objects in their photographs.

While wandering in my travels, I’ve always looked out for windows and mirrors as surfaces to record my reflections, even before selfies became A Thing. From closed and open windows to mirrors of all types and sizes, these are simple objects that help to frame your shots, as well as add a layer of complexity to them.

I took the following photograph from the penthouse of a building just minutes away from Trafalgar Square in London. While I could have poked my head out the window to grab a cleaner, windowpane-free shot, including the frame offers a distinct point of view — and adds more depth to the image:

View of Trafalgar Square in London, England

The viewer then wonders: who took this shot? Who lives in this building, so close to this famous square? What does this room, from where the photographer stands, look like? By including this window detail, we’ve created a story.

Consider, too, this reflection shot, taken in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon:

A self-portrait in a street mirror in Lisbon, Portugal.

Fun with reflections: The older Mirror Project is an archive of images created with reflective surfaces. Think beyond mirrors as well, from sunglasses to pools of water, and how these objects’ edges can act as frames.

Look for mirrors — on the street, in public washrooms, on restaurant walls, and other random surfaces — and think about how to use them in a photograph. In the shot above, I included the bottom curve of the mirror as a way to frame my self-portrait, and offering more context creates a more visually attractive photograph. (The snippet of the blue arrow sign at the very bottom is a nice touch, too.)

While square and rectangular windows and mirrors create cool effects, I personally love circular ones.

Lines

Use your surroundings to frame and compose your shots. Revisit Evan Zelermyer‘s post on shapes, lines, textures, and patterns. Evan photographs abstract, geometric shots of our urban environments.

From the yellow lines dividing the left and right sides of a road, to train tracks on a platform, to patterns on skyscrapers, lines are everywhere. They can be straight. Or curvy. Or crisscrossed. Or zigzagged.

Consider the movement of lines. Follow and trace where they go. Visualize what spaces they create. In the picture below, I captured a nearby felucca in between the bars of our own felucca, while sailing on the Nile River in Cairo one evening.

Lines

While I could have moved to the other edge of our boat and taken the photo, bar-free, I wanted to use these lines to compose my shot, frame my subject, and make a more unique image.

Open space

Finally, you can also frame your subject with nothing. Or, another way of putting it: use the open space around you to isolate your subject, like a blanket of blue sky. Or a clear, turquoise sea. Here, I’ve used both sky and sea as breathing space, framing this solitary man on a rock, just off the shore of Cala Tarida in Ibiza, Spain:

Open Space

A frame doesn’t have to be something thin or square, or even tangible! Think about the word “frame” in different ways. You’ll discover that many other things — including open space — can act as a compositional tool.

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  1. Beautiful shots!

    These are great tips to remember. Though I’m limited to phone photography, I’m always excited to find natural frames while roaming around in the woods. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually don’t think phone photography is limiting — I took half of these shots on my phone, and I think all the photos I’ve taken and featured in my recent photo challenges on this blog are from my phone.

      Always fun to roam around in the woods 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Really? That’s awesome! And encouraging. A good eye really does go a long way.

        I’m always kind of embarrassed to admit I do my photography with my phone. I see so many people with beautiful, expensive cameras and often think I can’t match the quality.

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  2. I love these–particularly the Trafalgar Square window view. This is a great perspective, because it is more than an interesting angle on a popular view, or a compelling cityscape; it implies a person, a mind, looking down but outwardly…a closed experience seeking release, and as you said, a story! A hundred stories! :o) Great shots. And I love your comment that phone photography doesn’t have to be limiting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this. And it’s great that many of these are phone shots. I find that I always have my phone and so more photos get taken with it.
    Two of my own favorite photos involve windows. There’s something very reflective about them. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
    Such good visual tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Any suggestions for creating borders with food and cooking photographs? I am developing my new blog, back2spain.com , and would be interested in hearing any ideas out there… thanks!

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