Hello everyone, it’s Jennifer Valencia back with more photography tips and tricks for you! Last week we covered the Rule Of Thirds. This time I’m going to talk about a few other photographic rules of composition: Fill The Frame (Get in Close) and “Four Corner Check.”
Fill The Frame sounds self-explanatory, but it’s something that even experienced photographers have to remind themselves about. If you think you’re close enough to your subject, you’re still probably not: Get in closer and fill the frame! Why? When you’re taking a photograph of a certain object, you’re telling a story with your picture. For example, maybe you notice a fantastic flower and you love the texture of the petals and the drops of water on the stem. You want to share this with others, and by zooming in and filling the frame with just your flower, you can really showcase the petals and water droplets. If you take the picture from farther back, you will also see greenery, bushes, maybe a sidewalk and someone’s arm – NOT what you wanted to remember about the moment, and NOT what you wanted to share. By filling the frame, you can immediately draw a viewer’s eye to the subject and make sure they see that subject FIRST. It can make your photograph more powerful because it’s obvious what is meant to be shown. Getting rid of unnecessary details in a photo can make it more powerful and increase the impact.
Obviously there are exceptions to this. If you’re taking a landscape you want to get a wide shot; if you’re doing a portrait, you have to be far back enough and using the right lens and shooting angle so that the person’s nose does not look too prominent. If you’re taking an environmental portrait, you NEED some background to help explain the subject or to add contextual information to the photo. If you’re trying to explain how vast or lonely something is, you may need to do a wide-angle shot as well. You also need to ensure that even in some “fill the frame” close-ups, your subject has room to move or breathe without making the picture feel compressed or claustrophobic. A head-to-toe portrait of a person that leaves no room at the top and bottom often feels clipped and uncomfortably close; you may need to leave some “breathing room” for your subject by adding some head and foot space.
However, for many pictures, getting in closer improves the shot — it shaves off extraneous “boring” background that does not help set the scene and does not add visual or contextual information to make the photo more appealing.
If you’re wondering how much background “works” for a particular shot, use the “Four Corner Check” to help decide. Look at where your subject is located, and then check what’s in all four corners. What’s there? Is it something interesting? Does it contribute to the overall effect of the photograph? This helps a photographer scan the entire scene and make judgements about what’s included in the picture, and whether it needs to be recomposed. Interestingly, even though a finished pictures may LOOK better closer, I also recommend shooting with a little extra “wiggle” room. This gives you some room to play around when you crop, especially if you’re interested in blowing the photo up to 8×10″. Often you can finish your “fill the frame” work in Photoshop with creative cropping. Of course, the more you crop, the more resolution you lose, and the less you can blow up the picture…so get the picture as close to perfect as you can in real life, and leave yourself just a little wiggle room for editing.
It’s always good to avoid placing a person directly in front of a telephone pole, tree branch, or other background object that will look like “antlers” or like it’s growing from their head. Always remember that your 3-D scene will be compressed into a 2-D photograph, so things behind your subject matter as well, both in shape and color.
Here are a few examples of filling the frame. I liked the bright colors and perfect, fresh blooms; filling the frame and leaving just a bit of “breathing space” in each picture let me focus on the gorgeous blossoms without adding extra clutter. For the pomegranate, I wanted an extreme close up “fill the frame” picture to highlight the contrast in colors and textures.
Here is an example where I used the “Four Corner Check” to help compose my picture. I used the Rule of Thirds to locate my daughter’s face and body, and I made sure that she was positioned so that the background showed enough detail to help describe the scene without overwhelming her as the subject. Because I wanted to show how she liked playing on the laundry line pole in her Grandma’s yard, I took a full-body picture of her clutching it. I needed to leave some “breathing room” by her head and feet so the photo didn’t feel clipped or like she was being squished. However, I didn’t want to include TOO much background, because that might distract from her on the pole. I made sure there was nothing “growing” from her head (tree branches/etc).
Next, I wanted to take more of a close-up that showed her happy face playing with less background. This photo was more about her face and motion, and less about her-in-her-environment, so I needed less environment. I zoomed in further to make sure that her head and shoulders were filling the space. I made sure to leave her hands showing; I don’t usually like clipping off hands in a photo because that can look awkward. Again, I used the Rule of Thirds to locate her face/eyes.
And here I really wanted to capture her dreamy expression that she sometimes gets when exploring, so I wanted to really fill the frame with her face. I liked her hand on the wall so I included that too. Here I made sure to really fill the frame with exactly what I wanted to show.
Here are a few more examples. The first shot of the turtle was a “fill the frame” shot to focus on the texture of its shell and the contrast against the sand and water. The second shot was a pull-back to show the turtle on the beach and how the area was roped off by the naturalists. Both shots tell a picture, but it’s a very different one — you can do this too, by controlling what is included in your picture.
As you can see, how much background you include, and how far in you zoom, are entirely dependent on what you are trying to capture and show. But just be aware of what you are doing — only include what is necessary. Zoom in to cut out extraneous “stuff” that does not enhance your picture in any way.