Over the past few years, in classes, lectures, and workshops, I am often approached to explain the principles behind the way I frame: “From so many options, why this one?”
Much of the pleasure I get from photography comes essentially from the act of searching for the right vantage point and the most appropriate framing. Having a more or less clear idea of my intention, the photograph forms itself the moment I look through the ground glass or viewfinder and visualize it. There are several prior decisions – camera, lens, film, time, etc. – which are relatively simple to answer when we know exactly what we want to achieve and a set of subsequent actions that follow a more or less logical progression: copying, processing, developing, proofing, printing, etc.. But it is between these two stages that, for me, the most important decisions take place.
If we exclude the question of the representation of the three dimensions on a two-dimensional plane, which is a common attribute in almost every field of photography, framing-related decisions are perhaps my main concern when shooting. I would like to say that framing is the first concern of most photographers, but the number of beheaded people on thousands of photo albums around the world tells us otherwise.
The photographic image, by its nature, imposes limits that separate what is in the photograph from what is not. This selection affects not only the context of the image but also its content, reverberating throughout the image and establishing relationships between lines and shapes of the picture and its edges.
Although there are infinite framings for a given scene, I like to think we can split framing into two types: functional and nonfunctional.
The building in this image establishes a strong visual relationship with the edges of the photograph. Instead of the traditional frontal view, which benefits the building and gives us the more objective version of its representation – because it allows us to measure and compare – this foreshortening reduces the empty space around the building as much as possible. It is in this tense relationship between the limits of the building and the limits of the framing that lies the expressiveness of this photograph.
This is a paradigmatic example of a functional framing. The image structure starts at the edges towards the center. While it is obvious that buildings, sidewalks, and sky continue beyond the frame, the world of this photograph is contained within this frame.
In this other case, the framing is clearly non-functional and appears where the photograph ends. The image structure begins at the center and extends toward its limits. Just as these buildings, roads, cars, and electric poles fit into the landscape, so does the structure of photography imply a world that continues beyond its limits.
Reducing the complexity of framing to these two large groups can create the erroneous feeling that this is a simple binary choice, but recognizing these principles is a good starting point towards a more conscious framing.