Finding a Frame Within the Scene

When the scene you’re taking is surrounded by a natural frame, composed of objects such as doorways, windows, openings in walls, and so on… well, that’s a good start. However, it’s not enough to have a frame. You need to have something within the frame to make it all worthwhile.

The featured image (above) fills all the criteria. The frame is not too regular, only approximating to a rectangle. Fortunately it’s visually interesting, being composed of several types of vegetation together with other elements. When I took the shot I liked the way the grey planter underlined the scene and anchored it firmly to the ground.

In this case, the composition works because the frame is mostly green, brown or grey, whereas the subjects are brightly dressed. When you look at these figures and try to see what exactly they’re doing, you are still aware of the natural frame which isolates them into an almost-secret world of their own.

Street art of boy with keyboard, glaring at the onlooker

Why Are Frames Satisfying?
We take physical picture frames very much for granted and rarely does anyone display a painting in a gallery without first placing it into frame. But why?

The frame exists on the periphery of our gaze, meaning that we are only aware of it subconsciously (unless we start to examine it). In nearly every case, it improves the picture. When we use a better quality frame, we add even more more aesthetic value. Nothing detracts from an image more than a cheap frame.

A frame helps the onlooker to concentrate on the image, yet increasingly we view photographs on digital displays without any surrounding barrier to stop the eye from wandering off the edge of the picture. I’ve never liked the idea of placing digital images into “faux frames,” in imitation of a gallery painting. After all, you need to choose a frame carefully. But it’s great when you can view photos surrounded by a plain, preferably dark frame – even if it’s the monitor’s bezel (although photo and screen proportions rarely match).

Literally Finding a Frame
It’s not often you find an actual frame in the scene, through which is a glimpse of reality rather than a picture. However, some recent renovation work in a nearly town gave me what is, in effect, a ready-framed image.

Workman, seen through a picture frame, courtesy of the town council

The work was taking place in the Suffolk town of Ipswich (about which I have an ongoing series of posts). The heart of the town is Cornhill, with the Town Hall and Corn Exchange buildings dominating the square. The Council had placed a giant hoarding around the work, interspersed here and there with peepholes surrounded by picture frames.

I like the irony of showing a ornate picture frame, with real workmen beyond it, right next to a photograph of the Town Hall which occupies a thin and barely noticeable frame. Once again, I’ve included some prominent colours in the scene, for which I had to wait a few minutes until the man with the orange jacket came into view.

Yellow walls of restaurant, at end of white passageway

The Joy of Passageways
One place to find a frame within the scene is to visit a passageway and stand a few yards back from the end of it.

The photo (above) is one of the entrances to Neal’s Court, in London. There’s contrast between the plain white walls and the brightly coloured buildings beyond them. We can see enticing menus and puffs of steam, both of which indicate the presence of food. We are drawn towards them, yet, in the still image, a woman remains rooted to the spot, examining her phone.

I wonder, does she counterbalance the tension? Does she hold back the onlooker from plunging into the picture? Or does she merely provide temporary relief, and in so doing actually exaggerate the feeling of movement towards the distant scene?

I think it’s the latter. When I took the shot I was worried unless she suddenly decided to move rapidly. Even one step would have ruined the photo. So the tension remains. Even though the scene has its own, built-in frame, it’s by no means a static shot.

The Joy of Entrances
Here (below) is another entrance, this time to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. When I’m in Bangkok I often pop in to the BACC to view the photographic exhibitions. There’s always something of interest!

The BACC has a splendid entrance, accessed by walkways which connect it to various shopping malls. However, it’s tricky to get a balanced composition because of the thin white pole on the right.

I solved the problem by waiting until more people were going in and out of the left hand side than the side nearer the pole.

Elegant modern entrance, people coming and going

Three of the images above involved a brief wait and one of them needed rapid action to get the shot. Only “Keyboard Graffiti” was independent of any constraint on my personal time. The boy with the keyboard even has two frames of his own: the frame of the sarcophagus and another through which he is sticking his head.

A frame within a frame! I think I’ll print and frame it.

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