5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Framing a Photo

By Maddie - 4 min read

This week’s tips & tricks gives you five questions to ask yourself when composing an image.

Jim Blackstock is an American photographer, videographer and writer currently living in Nashville, Tennessee. His interests include architecture, design, language, and economics— subjects which show through in his photographs. Today he shares some of the most important questions to ask yourself when composing a photograph.

The blogosphere is filled with tricks and tips for photographers, and tutorials on composition are no exception. Instead of telling you how to frame a photograph, here are five questions to ask yourself when composing an image.

Street light and building

1. What am I trying to say?

Ah, the existential (and essential) question we all must ask when faced with any creative act. What am I trying to say and how to do I use the tools at my disposal to shout it from the rooftops? This is the hardest question to answer, yet it should always be foremost in your mind.

Start with the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds allows you to give your subjects room to breathe. But, when you want to say something else, abandon it. Center subjects that you can’t live without. Push subjects to the edge of the frame and let us wonder whether they are coming or going.

Always strive to know what you want to say. You may make beautiful pictures, but without a coherent voice and without intention, they will never traverse the chasm that separates art from craft.

Graffiti on wall by railroad tracks

2. How will this photo be used?

Whether you happen to come upon a interesting event in the street or are setting up a shot for a client, this question should always arise. Should I leave some negative space for a logo or some text? Does getting a wide shot with lots of space tell a bigger story than filling the frame with details? Do I just need a beautiful shot of trees to fill space on my bathroom wall?

Usually the answer to these questions tell you how to compose the shot. Asymmetry is a great tool if you want to draw attention to something you view as absurd or for photos that require design overlays. And close-ups are great for turning everyday objects into artistic abstractions.

3. Is this visually interesting?

Interesting photos specifically, and interesting visual art in general, allow the eye to move around the image and explore its quirks. Strive to surprise both the viewer and yourself. Use scale to make small items look large or large items small. Use perspective to flatten objects in the foreground so they continue lines or shapes from the background. Any layer of interest you add helps tell the story you are trying to convey.

4. Can it be part of a series?

Shooting a series is great because it adds a certain weight to your worldview. It deploys a loyalty and consistency to the idea you’re trying to express. It works because humans are built to look for patterns and to make sense of them, so make sure you know what you are trying to say (See rule number 1).

Because I often obsess over structure and form, my favorite series have to do with repetition and symmetry, but they can be anything you want. And, the great thing about a series is that simplicity rules. Simple images repeated with intention often have a stronger impact than complex images without a strong narrative.


5. What new perspective can I bring to this photo?

In the era of instant digital photography, perspective is one of your most important tools. While thousands of pictures of familiar objects litter our screens and our inboxes, it’s important to fight against the sheer number of average photos out there.

Take a picture from above or from below. Take traditionally daytime photos at night. Use colored flashes. Experiment with any and all techniques that interest you. This is often the most fun question. If I’m about to take a photo and I’ve asked myself all the previous questions, then I do a little congratulatory dance. It’s my cue to experiment and try all the weird things that I know probably won’t make a good photograph, but I’ll never know for sure if I don’t try.

Thank you for sharing Jim! To see more of Jim’s work, follow him on Twitter (@patterncapturer) or check out his EyeEm portfolio.

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