Internal Frames

The last two blog posts have talked about using nodal points to place a subject inside of a frame. Up to this point, we have considered the frame to be the outside edges of the photograph.  What I want to consider today is the idea of having another frame inside of the edges of the picture. This frame is often called an inside frame or a secondary frame.

Consider this image of the legs in the fireplace. (The final image was called Between Here And There). The external frame is easy to see, it is the outside edges of the image. However, this image has several internal frames which are used to tell the story of the image as well as drive the viewers attention to the subject.

Internal Frames Example 1
Between Here And There

The obvious internal frame is the firebox. The tonal contrast of this internal frame immediately draws the viewers attention to that area of the overall image where we ultimately see that there are legs in the firebox.

The second internal frame that is utilized in this image in the top 1/3 of the image. It is defined by the top and sides of the image as well as the mantle of the fireplace. the damaged wall above the mantle attracts the viewer to this frame where they soon discover a ghostly face in the wall above the mantle.

Compositionally, this concept opens up many new doors. For example, consider the image Secret Agent Man. Firs of all, this image has a mat around it. The mat now becomes the external frame and the outer edges of the image become an internal frame. The placement of an image in a mat can have a significant impact on the final feel of an image and is a real consideration when displaying prints.

Internal Frames 2
Secret Agent Man

Within  the image I created two internal frames. This was done by dividing the image in half with the wooden edge of the door. The “Secret Agent” in now in one internal frame and “Admiring Onlooking” is in a different internal frame. By Making the one frame larger, it gives it greater significance in the image causing the viewers eye to go to the Secret Agent first. The viewers eye will the jump to the smaller frame to see the onlooker. Selective depth of field helps to strengthen the Secret Agent have greater viewer attraction in the image as well.

I once saw a wedding image that took this concept and used it to make a truly amazing image. The viewer was looking down a hallway and at the end of the hallway where two open doors. Through one door the viewer could see the complete chaos of the brides getting ready room. Clothing and boxes everywhere. I forget what the bride was doing but I remember it be something that looked very confused. Through the other door you could see the the father of the bride sitting at the end of a made bed, the room pin neat, calmly adjusting his tie.

That image was a perfect example of using multiple frames in a single image to tell two different stories, however, the stories were very much connected.

Step Away From The Thirds

Last week we talked about the rule of thirds and how it can provide placement of the subject within the frame.  The Golden Rectangle is an even earlier compositional rule that came from the Ancient Greeks. It is  based on a geometrical progression called the Fibonacci series.

The Fibonacci series starts with 0 and 1.  The series progresses by adding the last two numbers to create the next number.  By extrapolating out, series becomes 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, etc. What is interesting about the Fibonacci series is that if you take the ratio of any two sequential numbers in this series (ignoring the first ratio of 1/0 which can’t exist), they will always approach 1.618. This ratio is called Phi – not to be confused by the better know Pi which is something else all together.  The Greeks used the Fibonacci series in much of their architecture to build arches and rectangle. Eventually the Golden Rectangle evolved and from that came the Rule of Thirds.

Building a Golden Rectangle

To build a golden rectangle, you start with a square which is the first ratio in the Fibonacci series, 1/1.  Now put an identical square next to it and you have a 2/1 ratio (one side of the box is twice as long as the other). You now have a basic Golden rectangle.

To build the box bigger, take the long edge and add it to the short edge. This will give you a rectangle with a ratio of 2/3, which exactly follows the Fibonacci series. to make the new rectangle even bigger, once again take the long edge and add it to the short end. This will give you a ratio of 5/3, the next ratio in the Fibonacci series. Continuing to add more boxes in the same fashion, you will build a bigger rectangle, but it will always have the same relationship to Phi, regardless of how big you make it.

The Greeks found references to this pattern in nature and so adopted it to their architecture.  Soon, artists recognized the beauty of this Golden Rectangle and began making works of art composed using this concept.  By making the frame of the art piece in a 1.618 ratio, artists could define focal points by placing the subject in one of the boxes within the frame. The most impact created in the smallest box – the least impact being in the largest box.  Many great works of art exhibit this theory in their compositional elements and I would recommend spending some time investigating.

From the Golden Rectangle came the Golden Mean.  The Golden Mean is a way of finding the impact spot in a Phi based rectangle without having to draw out the boxes.  To determine the Golden Mean, and hence the highest impact point, draw a straight line from one corner to its opposite corner. The draw another line at right angles from the line you just drew up to an adjacent corner.  Where the two lines meet is the same place as the smallest box will be.  This is your Golden Mean. Like the rule of thirds, you can create 4 impact points or “nodal points” in your image.

There is also a spiral that can be found in this series. It starts at a nodal point and expands out from there. This shape is also found in nature (think shells). this line can be used to flow the composition through the frame of your image.
So here is the challenge. Try using the Golden Mean instead of the Rule of Thirds to form your compositions. The difference may seem minor, but, because of the added flexibility of multiple squares to compose in , as well as a flow line, and an overall nodal point, your compositions could take on a whole new feeling.

Divide Into Three

Composition is crucial to a good photograph. I am a big proponent to not following the rules, however, I do belIeve that in order to break the rules successfully, you need to understand them and know how to make them work for you. The following is an article I wrote in 2010 for my old blog that discusses the rule of thirds. I have reproduced it here to save having to search my old blog for it. It will also serve as a starting point for my next few posts on this site.
Every image needs to have a point of interest –  a main focal point that is supported by the rest of the image.   For example, in a head and shoulders portrait, the main focal point will usually be the eyes.  In a full length portrait, the main focal point will usually be the face.  It is very common for a new photographer to want to place the main focal point right in the centre of the image.  In most cases, this will not be the most effective placement of the subject.

First seen in paintings around 1797, the rule of thirds has become the most common compositional rule for subject placement within a frame.  The rule of thirds divides the frame into 9 sections by drawing lines across the frame at one third intervals both horizontally and vertically. By placing the main focal point where two of the lines intersect will almost always create a more powerful composition than having the subject placed in the centre of the frame.  So, when you create a head and shoulders portrait, the eyes should land on one of the cross points.  When you have a larger subject, such as a full length portrait, the point of interest can be placed on one of the lines.  The key is to have your main point of interest on one of the thirds, and where the lines cross will be the highest impact points.

The intersections of the lines are called Nodal Points. When someone looks at an image, their eye flows from left to right, bottom to top to bottom, passing through the nodal points in the order that they are numbered in the diagram.  The eye will stop briefly at each nodal point but will be attracted to stay longer only if there is a reason to.  Placement of your subject on specific nodes can create some very interesting dynamics.

If your subject is placed on nodal point 1, the eye will be drawn to stop there.  However, your brain will want to continue its journey through the image.  This will cause tension and stress, translating into a sensation of tension and stress in your image.  Nodal point 4 will do the opposite.  Because the mind has finished its journey through the image, it is comfortable to rest here before exploring the image again or moving out of the frame.  Hence a sense of calm is given to the image.

Nodal point three will give a similar sense of calm but the subject will have more power, control, or importance in the image. Nodal point 2 will have a similar sense of tension as nodal point 1 but the subject will have a better sense of power, control, or importance in the image.

Here are some tips when using the rule of thirds for portrait photography.

  • The eyes are the focal of a head and shoulders portrait.  Have them on the nodal point 2 or 3
  • In a full length portrait, the head and eyes should be on the upper 3rd line
  • In a 3/4 length portrait, the head is the point of interest and should be in the 2nd or 3rd nodal point
  • Image flow of the main subject should have the viewers eyes moving back into the image

The rule of thirds is the most well known compositional rule.  Use it but keep in mind that it is not the only compositional element.