Exercise 1.4 – Frame

This is, essentially, an exercise in poor composition (or at least of semi-random framing). We are asked to compose an image in one-ninth of the viewfinder and ignore the other eight-ninths at taking stage. This was difficult for the first few shots as there is a tendency to automatically compose with the entire viewfinder, but I was able to do it with a little practice and without resorting to masking-off sections of viewfinder.

On reviewing the images, I have the following comments that apply to a significant subset (although not the same subset for each comment). These are illustrated with examples below.

All images were taken with a Canon G1-X, set to fully-auto mode so the only camera function under my direct control was the focal length. These images have been resized by a Lightroom export to 1000 pixels on the longest side but are otherwise unmodified. None have been cropped.

The photographs were taken in a single session. The subject matter is a derelict village hall, awaiting demolition prior to redevelopment of the site, and its immediate environs.

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Because I was composing normally, but only in one-ninth of the viewfinder, I was using a much shorter focal length than usual and wide-angle distortions are apparent, particularly when I was composing in one of the corner divisions (e.g. the daffodils and blue sign in the top left corner above)

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Where I was composing in the upper part of the viewfinder, the ‘extra parts’ of the image were of mainly featureless pavings which read as negative space and can be ignored. However, composing in the lower part of the viewfinder introduces more visual clutter.

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Unexpected ‘extra’ image elements, cut off by the frame edge, can introduce awkward shapes, such as the front of the car in the image above.

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The occasional happy accident can occur, such as the leading lines from bottom-centre and centre-right, which help us to discover and focus on the daffodils at the top-left of the image above.

I have selected six images that are reasonably well-composed (the small piece of car is unfortunate) and work as a set to describe the subject.

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The upper pair describe the building overall, two blocks, one of traditional brickwork and a prefabricated timber extension. The middle row shows building details, partly walls and partly windows of the two blocks and we see that the older brickwork has worn rather better than the newer block. The lower row deals with the surrounding pavings and I have tried to mirror the yellow tape around the guard rail with the colour of the daffodils.

In the top row, the eye is taken in a horizontal line along the kerb (the signpost and telegraph pole act as ‘stoppers’ to the left) to the basin wastes in the top-right image which leads it down into the centre row (reinforced by the two vertical white lines.

In the centre-right image, the vertical lines of the brick pier relate to the right edge of the overall frame and the perspective of the horizontal brick courses lead the eye to the left and the window. The left-hand image picks up the window motif and has a vertical emphasis to keep the eye within the set.

The bottom-left image picks up the timber cladding and both images have leading lines (angled manhole cover and the paving lines previously noted) pulling the eye back into the centre of the panel.

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Framing v Cropping

I am asked to note down what I understand to be the difference between cropping and framing.

My own working definition, slightly glib and deliberately circular,  is ‘Framing is cropping done in the viewfinder. Cropping is framing done or refined in post-processing’. Both words describe the act of selecting a segment of the scene before the camera, making a decision about what to include or reject (Szarkowski, quoted in course papers, p26) and arranging the principal elements within the picture space. Szarkowski (ibid.) notes that the action forces a concentration on the picture edge and the shapes that are created by it.

Of the two dictionaries of photographic terms that I consulted, Lewinski (1987) defines neither term and Bailey (1987) fails to define framing. He defines cropping as ‘Editing of a print or image, and the rejection of unwanted areas to concentrate on the main subject of the picture.’

Michael Freeman appears to adopt the same working definition as me, and the first chapter of ‘The Photographer’s Eye‘ (2007) is an extended riff on the subject. On the page headed ‘Cropping’ (2007, 20) he tells us ‘Cropping is a way of reworking the image well after it has been shot; an option for deferring design decisions, and even of exploring new ways of organising an image.’

Freeman (2011, 156) also gives a useful description of framing, ‘Framing is how the boundaries are set; the shape of the camera frame is the given, and often the first decision is how this is going to be applied to the scene in front of the photographer … The viewpoint and the lens focal length are the two main variables, followed by decisions on what will be included and what left out.’

John Hedgecoe (1994, 154) regards both actions as cropping in his glossary and uses the term ‘framing’ (1994, 28) for the compositional technique of using foreground objects as a frame to focus attention on the main subject.

Liz Wells (2000, 283) reminds us that framing also refers to the act of placing a physical frame around a physical picture. It acts as the margin between the work and the wall and delineates the edge of the picture – which brings us neatly back to the Szarkowski quote in the course notes.

I am aware that there is a debate about whether cropping is acceptable or to be avoided, but that is a topic for another day. In my opinion, some cropping is inevitable (Film or sensor formats are often not proportional to the paper size. Optical viewfinders rarely correspond precisely to the frame captured on the film or sensor) but it is best to keep it to a minimum in order to maximise the amount of information (pixels or negative area) in the final image.

References:

Bailey, A. (1987) The Illustrated Dictionary of Photography. Leicester: Windward

Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes: Ilex Press

Freeman, M. (2011) The Photographer’s Vision. Lewes: Ilex Press

Hedgecoe, J. (1994) John Hedgecoe’s Complete Guide to Black and White Photography and Darkroom Techniques. London: Collins & Brown

Lewinsky, J. (1987) Jorge Lewinski’s Dictionary of Photography. London: Sphere Books

Wells, L. (2000) Photography: A Critical Introduction, Second Edition. London: Routledge