Lesson 53: The Rule of Filling the Frame

One of the oft-cited quotes of famous photographers is:  “If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” (Robert Capa).  Given that Capa (famous for his images from wars as a photojournalist) reportedly died when he stepped on a land mine, it’s probably best to bear in mind that there is such a thing as too close.

There is an important message to consider in the context of our earlier lesson on filling the frame, however.  As I said before, your frame will be full of something.  Make sure it’s the something you wanted.  In Lesson 3, I used the example of taking a picture of my dog and how I would caption each example based on what was included in the frame and what wasn’t.

But what about when you’re shooting large landscapes?  Landscapes don’t often present themselves with logical end points.  And part of the impact of a landscape is expansiveness and scale.  There absolutely is such a thing as being too close when the story you want to tell is about vastness.  (The following examples were taken with iPhone 4S and Pro HDR app.)

You have to make choices about what will fit in your frame and what won’t when you’re shooting a landscape.  One of the things I love about landscape photography is that there is usually time to figure this out.  Granted, changing light, weather, or a rising moon may make me feel rushed, but even then, a little bit of planning gives me lots of time to choose what I want in my frame.

There are many details to consider.  One of the things I look at are the edges of my frame.  Am I cutting off a city scape smack dab in the middle of a building?  Could I change my angle slightly or take a step back to hit between two buildings instead? (The following examples were taken with iPhone 4S and Camera Awesome App.)

Similarly for a wilderness scene, I’m often shooting through tree branches.  I want those foreground branches to create a frame for the distant view.  I also want those tree branches to be in focus because I find blurry branches distracting.  Sometimes, I have to pick one, no matter how much I love pick-two menus.  (The following examples were taken with iPhone 4S and Camera Awesome app.)

Your Assignment:  You’re frame is full every time you point your camera at something.  The key is to decide what you fill it with.  Get closer when your subject warrants being close–like people or subjects where the details make the difference.  Get further away when your subject needs distance–like vast landscapes.  Then look for what else is in your frame that you didn’t pick.  Do you want it there?  Can you do something differently to exclude it if not?