Basic Composition: Framing

Basic Composition: Framing

For the last few months, our photographic challenges have focused on composition. This is because composition is one of the most important aspects of a photograph. These rules are there because they give your photos balance and help your viewer easily (and quickly) understand what is important within the photo you have taken.

This month we will focus on Framing. Framing is a compositional technique of drawing attention your image’s subject by blocking other parts of the image with something in the scene. It can help give your image a sense of place and time—adding meaning to your photo. In addition, framing can also be a very strong storytelling technique—before you begin to frame your images, it is important to consider the effect it will have on the story you are trying to convey. For example, while framing a subject can allow you direct the viewer to exactly what you want them to look at, it can also give the viewer a feeling of  interrupting, or peeking into, a private moment.

Almost anything can be used to frame items and people within a photograph. Below are a few framing elements (both literal and non) that can be used:

  1. Light and shadow
  2. Architectural elements (windows, doorways, etc.)
  3. Environmental Elements (leaves, people, etc.)

As you can see, frames are everywhere and just about anything can be used to frame your subject. However, before you do so, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will this add or take away from the image I am trying to create?
  2. What is the story I am trying to tell?

How we choose to frame cannot only impact the how easily the viewer can interpret the photo (framing can add visual clutter if the photographer is not careful), but it can also affect the story being told. Therefore, it is important to be selective on what you choose to frame.

Five things to know about framing:

  1. A frame does not need to surround your subject
  2. The edges of your frame can vary – a building edge can create one side, while a passerby head can create the other while a light-colored floor could make up the bottom.
  3. Framing can be symmetrical, but it does not have to be
  4. A frame can be created by simply getting close to your foreground.
  5. Trees, doorways, crowds, windows, and any other everyday objects can make good framing objects.
  6. Contrast between light and dark can create some interesting frames of your subject.

Like the rule of thirds, minimalism, and other compositional rules, framing is just tool. If used properly, framing can help you add something to your imagery. While it is important to be aware of frames while you are photographing, it is equally important to remember not every photograph needs a frame.

Want to learn more about photography basics, participate in monthly challenges, and receive constructive criticism on your images?

Join our Facebook group, Capturing Life: A Rochester Parent Beginner Photo Group. Be sure to answer the questions so one of our admins can let you in!

Basic Composition: Rule of Thirds

Basic Composition: Rule of Thirds

The Rule of thirds is a composition guideline for images. It is a simple concept that can be used to help you create more balanced and engaging imagery.

The rule of thirds states an image should be imagined as divided into 3rds both horizontally and vertically, creating nine equal parts (see image above). Furthermore, the rule states important elements within the image should be placed along these lines or their intersections. The idea is by placing images along these areas the photographer creates points of tension/energy/interest in the composition, then if they simply centered the subject.

While there are many more composition techniques, the rule of thirds is a great starting point for any beginner.

When you are setting up your photo, try to imagine the scene divided up in the way described above. Think about what the most important part of your photo is and try to place them at or near the lines/intersections of the grid, like the above image. See how the baby is positioned on the right-hand side of the image and the focal point of the image, his messy fingers, are located near/on the intersecting point? Tip: Some cameras overlay settings which will allow you to see the rule of thirds grid on your photo as you are composing it in camera.

It is important to note this not a hard and fast rule—sometimes breaking rules can yield stunning results. However, just like any new skill, before breaking any rules it is important to master them first.


Want to learn more about photography basics, participate in monthly challenges, and receive constructive criticism on your images?

Join our Facebook group, Capturing Life: A Rochester Parent Beginner Photo Group. Be sure to answer the questions so one of our admins can let you in!

Basics of Light in Photography

Basics of Light in Photography

In a previous post, we briefly discussed how the way light is handled by a photographer can have a direct outcome of whether a photograph is ultimately ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Though the misconception is that the quality of images directly correlate to the type of camera used, it is light that plays a significant role.  Even a well-lit subject can be captured poorly if there isn’t a proper understanding of light and how to capture it.

When a camera takes a photo, the camera opens its shutter and allows light in through the lens and into the sensor which is then made into an image. There are three settings on your camera which will help you to determine how much light you want to let in. These settings are: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO— also known as the exposure
triangle. Note: all three settings work together, so modifying one will mean you have to modify another in the opposite direction.

Before we go any further, I want to define the term exposure. Exposure is referring to the brightness or darkness of a photo—when we refer to an image as overexposed, we are saying the image is too bright (too much light was let into the camera’s sensor) and when we refer to an image as underexposed, it is describing the image as too dark (not enough light was let into our camera’s sensor).

Photography is all about controlling and capturing light. Most beginners think the magic of photography happens in the body of a camera, but the true source is light. A well-lit subject can still be captured poorly; light is everything.

Let’s go into a bit more detail on each of these settings:

Aperture: This is the size of the lens opening and they are often displayed in the form of f/8, f/5.6, etc. The smaller the number, the bigger the lens opening (or wider the aperture) and the more light is let into
your camera.  In addition, aperture also effects depth of field (which will affect how much of your images is in focus).

Shutter Speed: This is how long the shutter is left open and are often displayed in the from of 1/60, 1/250, etc.  The slower the shutter speed, the more light is let in. Shutter speed also affects you’re camera’s sensitivity and ability to stop motion. The slower your shutter speed, the more motion blur your image will have.

ISO: Your ISO is how sensitive your camera sensor is to light and is often display in the form of ISO 200, ISO 1600, etc. Higher ISOs will allow you to take photos in darker situations. Note: the higher the ISO more the noise or ‘grain’ your image will have.

In addition to determining the amount of light allowed on your camera’s sensor, these settings also control different photographic criteria as well and need to be taken into consideration before making any final artistic decisions. Aperture changes the depth of field, shutter speed stops motion or can introduce motion blur, and ISO modifies the noise levels of your images.

Now the exposure triangle is important to understand to help you take the photos you envision. It is an in-depth topic which we will dive more deeply as time moves on, but before we do it is important to understand the basics.

For a visual representation of how these three settings interact with one another, check out this website: http://photography-mapped.com/interact.html. Or check out the image below from lifehack.org. Either one will help you to visually see the changes the choices you make with these three settings will have on your exposure.

What Makes a ‘Good’ Photo?

What Makes a ‘Good’ Photo?

In a world with smartphones armed with incredible cameras, we are inundated with photographs daily.  With some form of camera on our person always, it’s no wonder current generations are being touted as the “most documented”.  This over-saturation of daily photos on our social media timelines and cellphones have lead to photographic ‘indifference’ and have seemingly lowered the bar on our definition of what a ‘good’ or ‘great’ photograph really is?

So what makes a photograph ‘good’ or ‘bad’? While photography can be very subjective in nature, is a common trait ‘good’ photos possess and that is: it elicits an emotional response from the viewer. Now, this emotional response doesn’t always have to be a positive one; it can incite anger or sadness as well. The important thing to note is if the photo made you feel something. While this definition of a good photograph can often open itself up to interpretation, how it is accomplished is, I believe, rooted in the technical aspects of photography.

Truly great photographs not only elicit an emotional response from the viewer, but they also focus on key factors: light (the word ‘photography”s Greek roots literally mean drawing with light), focus, composition, subject matter (simply put: moment)—‘good’ photos contain at least two of these items, ‘great’ photos will contain them all.


Light and how you treat it is essential to a good photograph. It can affect how the view perceives the overall mood and message of the image.


Focus is one of those items which cannot be downplayed. A technically sound image will be in focus (unless the photographer has purposely placed the image out of focus, which should be apparent). An image with no clear item in focus can leave the viewer confused as to what they are supposed to be looking at.



Strong composition allows the photographer to draw the viewer directly to what they want them to see. How you compose an image can change the overall story being told.

Subject Matter (or Moment):

The subject matter doesn’t have to be over-the-top to be strong; there can be strong subject matter in even the quietest of moments. The presence or absence of a strong subject can make (or break) a photo. Note: Sometimes if the subject matter is strong enough, it can trump any other technical imperfections the image may include.

Even though we are surrounded by imagery each day, it’s important to appreciate the standout photos—the ones which elicit an emotional response within us, the viewer, in addition possessing what is required of a technically sound photograph.

Lifestyle vs. Documentary Photography Sessions

Lifestyle vs. Documentary Photography Sessions

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of photographers using the terms “documentary” and “lifestyle” interchangeably in regards to the type of photo sessions they offer. Being that documentary photography is a fairly new genre, I can understand why there might be some confusion. There is a distinct difference, however, between lifestyle and family documentary photography. So before lines are blurred further, I thought it would be helpful to explain the difference.

Lifestyle Photography

Most of the candid, natural sessions you will come across in your search for a photographer will fall under the “lifestyle” umbrella—they are a stylized version of real life—everyone’s outfits are coordinating, the background is clear of clutter, lighting is absolutely perfect, etc. … you get the idea. Lifestyle photographers tend to capture “real moments” within stylized scenarios they guided into place.

For example, your photographer will ask you to tickle your child and then capture the resulting giggles—the moment is real, but the way in which the moment came about is fabricated, or guided into place.  They may say “How about we go near this window and play?” which provides them with the perfect scene and lighting to capture whatever unfolds. They could also have you repeat something you did in the moment. This allows them the opportunity to capture a moment they may have missed or allow them to get a better composition or angle.

It’s a cleaned-up version of real life— nobody’s house or child is ever as clean as they are in these pictures in real life (if it is for you, please teach me your ways).

Documentary Photography

Documentary photography is all about capturing life as it unfolds—whether the photographer was there or not—the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. It is moment-driven, authentic, real, and unique to each family. They aren’t necessarily meant to always be “pretty;” they are meant to tell a story.

With documentary photography, the photographer has the ability to freely tell your story while it is unfolding in front of them. The images you see happened in the moment, with no guidance given. These sessions accurately depict a particular stage in your family’s life and the relationships you have with one another. It focuses more on emotion and ultimately provides you with a photographic time capsule of those moments in your life.

Family documentary photography is built upon the principles of photojournalism (documentary family photography is also often referred to as family photojournalism). With this particular type of photography, it is expected that nothing is moved or touched in the scene, subjects are not directed, light is not altered, and post-production is minimal.

I believe this type of photography is instrumental in fighting constant societal pressure to always be what it deemed as “perfect.”  Nobody is perfect,  life especially, and this gives us the opportunity to show the beauty within the imperfect parts of family life. Perfection is found in our life’s everyday moments—the good, bad, and everything in between.


No One Way is Better Than the Other

I don’t want you to believe I think one style of photography is necessarily better than the other. I believe each style has its place within the industry, yields totally different photographic results, and solves the needs of individual families. I do believe “knowledge is power” and hopefully now you have a better understanding of the differences between lifestyle and documentary family photography. Hopefully, this information can help you to better identify the type of session you would want for your family moving forward.

If you want to learn more about differences between these two styles, check out this blog post by Jenna Christina Photography. She interviewed family photojournalists from around the world to ask them what they believe the difference is between lifestyle and documentary photography. And of course, if you have any questions regarding the difference between these two genres, please feel free to contact me.