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When you’re working with a subject, whether it’s a person or an object, you always need to keep the overall composition in mind. One of the central aspects of composing an image is to consider how you are going to balance the positive and negative space in the frame.
The positive space in a photo refers to the subject themselves whereas the negative space refers to the background or secondary parts of the image. When you fill the frame in an image it involves cutting the negative space to a bare minimum so that the main focus is on the subject themselves. Filling the frame means that you are working primarily with the positive space in the image and significantly reducing the negative space in the photo.
What is the ‘Frame’ in Photography?
When we speak about the frame, and filling it or otherwise, we’re not talking about the frame of a picture when it’s hanging on the wall! The frame, in photography, refers to the totality of the image itself, as seen through the viewfinder.
The frame of a photo refers to the composition of everything that’s in the actual photograph. This is why deciding how to ‘frame’ the image is so essential to creating powerful, meaningful and impactful photography.
Should You Always Fill the Frame?
It’s not always the right compositional choice to fill the frame but when you’re working in portraiture, architectural and wildlife photography it can often deliver more impact and help the audience to truly appreciate the subject. There are, of course, many genres in which filling the frame is an excellent way to approach your compositions including fashion, abstract and many others besides. Essentially, as a photographer, you should always have the concept of whether or not to fill the frame in the back of your mind, ready to use when it is both appropriate and feels right to you.
What Effect Can You Achieve By Filling the Frame?
When you choose to fill the frame with the subject of the photograph you are making a powerful statement about what’s important in the composition. You are choosing to focus entirely, or almost entirely, on the subject while leaving out most of the background and negative space in the image.
- The Viewer’s Focus is on the Subject: Backgrounds can be distracting and take away from the impact of the subject in the photograph. When you want the entire focus of the viewer of the image to be on the subject then filling the frame is one way to ensure this. The technique can be used in many genres including portraiture when getting close up shots of your subject gives the image a more intimate feel.
- Excellent Technique for Beginners to Create More Powerful Photos: When people are new to photography they often make the mistake of incorporating far too much background and other unnecessary objects in the photo. Remembering to fill the frame and consciously trying to do so can really help beginner photographers start to learn about how to create more striking compositions.
- Keeps Your Photos Clear and Uncluttered: Filling the frame is one of the best ways to instantly declutter your photography. When images are full of different points of interest, large swathes of background and other details it can ruin the overall composition and make the photo look amateur and unthought out. It’s always a good idea to try to keep your photos less busy so that the main attention of your viewers remains on the intended subject matter of the image. To avoid the tendency of over cluttering photos simply fill the frame more with the main subject.
- Encourages You to Think More Carefully about the Subject of the Photo: When you fill the frame with the subject of your photography it forces you to really consider the best way to present them. When you get in close and really focus on the subject you have to think of the best ways to feature them in the photos. This helps to develop your previsualization and is a vital skill to master as a photographer.
- Filling the Frame Creates a Stronger Connection Between Your Audience and the Subject of Your Photo: When you get up closer to the subject and really focus on them it immediately creates a stronger bond between your viewer and the subject. This is especially true of portraits but it applies in any genre of photography too. Close up shots of wildlife or pets that fill the frame are far more engaging than a shot that includes a large amount of negative space in the background.
How To Fill the Frame in Your Photography.
There are many reasons why you should be considering making more use of the compositional technique of filling the frame but how do you go about doing it?
It’s actually very easy to start incorporating this method into your work and although you shouldn’t always be filling the frame with the subject you should keep it in the back of your mind as a helpful option!
- Get Closer To Your Subject: The easiest way to fill the frame with your subject is to simply get closer to them while you’re taking the photo. When you’re working with a model you can move closer to them in your studio or on location. Otherwise, if you’re working outdoors you can also move closer to the subject until it starts to fill the frame more, whether it’s a flower or a building!
- Use the Zoom Lens: When, for whatever reason, you can’t actually move closer to the subject then you can use your zoom lens to artificially get in closer to them and fill the frame that way. There’s many occasions when this is necessary – for example, if you’re taking a photo of a tiger in the zoo then it’s a bad idea to jump into the cage and get right up close to them! Instead, just zoom in until the tiger fills the frame. You can, of course, also use the zoom lens in your studio although it’s usually better to physically move if you can.
Filling the Frame While You Shoot vs Filling the Frame in Post Production – Which is Better?
It’s usually better to try to fill the frame while you’re actually shooting the pictures however, if you can’t for some reason then you can also crop the image in post production to get the same effect.
There will be times when you’ve taken the photos and already left the location and it’s only when you’re editing the pictures that you realize one of them would be much better if you had filled the frame. In this instance, then you should certainly crop the image.
However, do be aware that even though you can do an awful lot to correct things in post production you’ll never have the same level of control in the editing suite as you do when you’re on the ground taking the actual pictures.
What Should You Include When You Fill The Frame?
You should always try to be flexible when you’re working with any compositional technique in photography and never feel trapped by a concept! All compositional tools should be used with a pinch of salt while being constantly guided by your own personal vision.
- You Don’t Need to Fill The Entire Frame!: Filling the frame shouldn’t always be taken absolutely literally and so in some cases you may want to only partially fill the frame. You can fill half the frame with a close up of your subject which will still leave plenty of room for some interesting background details that may add to the narrative of the image. You can use the negative space and close up images of your subject to create contrast, layers of interest and great compositions without filling the entire frame of the photo.
- Try to Be Selective!: Once you realize the power of filling the frame it can be tempting to overuse it in your photography! If you take every single photo with the frame entirely filled the technique will quickly lose its impact. Try to use the technique only when it’s either appropriate, relevant or adds to the power of the overall image.
Use Filling the Frame to Exclude Things Too.
Just like a coin, there are two sides to the concept of filling the frame. On the one hand you can use it to focus the viewer’s attention on the subject but don’t forget you can also use it to exclude things you don’t want in the photo. You can use it to exclude distractions, other objects, people in the background and busy areas of negative space.
Filling The Frame – A Powerful Compositional Tool for Photographers.
When you’re working with a subject you should always consider the interplay between the positive and negative space in the image. One of the most impactful ways of focusing on the positive space in the image is to fill the frame with the subject.
Once you master the technique you can use it to great effect in your work and with a little creativity and imagination it will instantly transform images into professional grade, intimate and attention grabbing photographs.
Do you use filling the frame technique in your photography?