4 Ways to Compose a Clean Frame in Nature / by Andrea Moffatt

I think that too often, photographers and non-photographers alike talk about people having a "good eye" instead of attributing their successful images to a strong understanding of composition. Composition is most simply, the arrangement of visual elements in the frame. Composing a frame in a city or in a building can often be a little more straight forward because you have so many lines and shapes with which to work. But stick your subject in the chaos of nature and often it isn't so clear cut. Here are four ways to thoughtfully compose a clean frame in nature. It's ok to go with your gut, but a little planning and purposefulness goes a long way too!


1. Look for shapes. In the puddle image below, I was using the concentric circles radiating from the kids' feet to frame my subjects. That's why I composed the picture at more of a downward angle - to cut out the distraction of the horizon line and bring the viewer's attention to the circles.

2. Leave negative space around your subject. So often we think that the only way our subject will be seen and noticed is by putting them front and center and filling the frame. On the contrary, sometimes good use of negative space is more impactful.

3. Think of your frame as a jigsaw in which each piece has to fit snuggly against the next. Your subject might be one piece, and then the environment around it might be the other (as in the first shot below). In the second shot, my subject divides the frame according to the rule of thirds and behind him, the environment is segmented into three horizontal sections- black, green, and brown. I cropped his head purposefully to make this division more purposeful.


4. Look for lines. Sometimes lines are not as obvious nature as they are in architecture, but you can almost always find them. If you can't see any lines where you are standing- move! Or more specifically, back up. Often, if you can view the scene from farther back you can compose a frame in which the lines can be used to frame your subjects or lead your viewers' eyes right to them, as in this first shot. Remember that your subjects themselves can form lines. In the last image, I waited for the kids to move into this pleasing arrangement before I clicked.