Research for The Frame

On reaching the “Fitting the Frame to the Subject” exercise within “The Frame” component of the course I initially struggled to think of a subject that was both local and that would meet the brief. Having already done some exercises in doors under lights, a method I am not totally comfortable with, I wanted to get outside and capture a subject within a landscape. It struck me that the huge pylons that run across nearby farmland might work. I went out early morning to catch the light and took a few different series of images that potentially met the criteria of the exercise.

After the shoot and having done some initial sorting and editing it proved difficult to select a sequence of photographs that I both liked and met the brief. I looked again at the samples in the course notes and in Michael Freeman, The Photographer’s Eye (2007). On looking at these images I found that I responded positively to three out of the four and I therefore assumed that the photographer had probably valued all four images. I interpret Freeman’s own descriptions of the images to mean that he liked three and thought one “ordinary”.

I decided to take a step back to look into the subject of framing a little further to see if that would help me select my sequence. The obvious starting point was to re-read sections of Michael Freeman, The Photographer’s Eye (2007).  I have owned this book for a number of years having originally acquired it because I found many of Freeman’s images graphically powerful, using strong shapes and lines to create patterns that dominate the final image. It is often the shape that catches my eye rather than the subject and I know that I am drawn to subjects that lend themselves to this approach so I wanted to better understand the dynamics behind this. This seemed especially relevant in the context of a framing exercise and the pylon photos which were potentially about strong shapes and lines.

Michael Freeman (2007) tells us that ” the edges of the frame can have a strong or weak influence of the image.” I think that I have several old photographs in my collection that follow this principle.


In this example, taken in Hong Kong, I believe I unconsciously used the principle of “alignment” as described by Freeman.

The right hand edge of the office block and its windows align with the sides of the frame and the statue is in a frame within the frame, aligned with the edges of the frame and the office block. Freemen tells us that this technique is “predictably successful” and he warns that it can be overused and become a cliché. Even so, it appears to be an effective way of focusing attention on a subject. We like frames, it is notable how often film and TV cameramen use frames within a frame for dramatic effect.

I cannot remember what was in my mind when I took this photograph but I suspect that I saw the arrow pointing to the statue and the strong contrast of the grey stone and the dark blue sky rather than the frames but the frames clearly influenced the composition.

Whilst there is some diagonal tension created by the “arrow” it is not necessarily the dominant feature, its role is more simplistic, leading the eye to the statue. The office block is a background pattern.

In the second image that came to mind, taken this time in Tokyo, there appears to be real diagonal tension as described by Freeman.


The angle of the top of the building enter and depart the frame at its corners. I responded to the disappearing perspective of the company name and the single round object, the life belt, that contrasts both in shape and  colour with all the straight lines.

Freeman talks about the interplay of diagonals and I see this image as an example of that although I wonder whether there is too much dead space in the top left-hand half of the frame. His examples are much more full.

The final image that I remembered that appears to fit into the idea of the frame strongly influencing the image is a bit of a cliché but is an image that I still like over thirty years after I took it.

Long before the Hong Kong government  flattened an island and built a modern airport the colony, as it was then, was served by Kai Tak Airport on the edge of one of the most densely populated places in the world.


On final approach planes had to fly low over the old high rise blocks and after a bit of trial and error I found a street that was regularly over flown.

The resulting image is heavily influenced by the strong lines that dynamically stretch from the edges to the plane at the centre. Of course, there is also a strong frame within the frame. I think my fondness of this old photograph is partly because of the internal frame but also because the lines of the buildings point right into the image which provides a lot of depth. I still feel drawn in.

I found that looking back at these old images whilst reading Freeman’s ideas helped me to better understand some of the relationships between the frame and the subject when strong shapes and lines are involved and how I had used these dynamics in the past.


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