Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fill the Frame!

 Trumpet Player on Constitution Avenue - 2
This post is dedicated to another composition technique – filling the frame.  In other words, the objective is to fill as much of the shot with your subject as possible.  In contrast, have you ever seen one of Uncle Bob’s vacation pictures of the Eiffel Tower (the King’s Dominion version of course) that happens to be a speck just to the left of Aunt Martha’s decapitated and bisected head (photographically of course)?  My mission is to implore you to try another approach…fill the frame with the Eiffel Tower, not half of Aunt Martha’s chin hair.
Al Fujayrah Beach CabanaAnother way to think about this, is to make it a goal to really feature your subject.  By filling the frame with your subject, you eliminate distracting elements that draw the viewer’s eye away from the subject.
A Camel was parked at a Mosque
There are two ways to achieve a “full frame.”  First, and certainly preferred in my opinion, is composing the shot with the frame filled.  In other words, do it in the camera.  The second, and less preferred method is to crop in the image in the digital dark room.  My rationale is simple; your persistent goal should be to minimize the need for any post-processing.   The better your composition, exposure, use of light and appropriate camera settings, the better your photograph and the less need for software enhancements.
Playing Devil’s Advocate, there is an argument for taking a slightly larger shot (leaving generous space around your subject) and cropping to the desired frame filling dimensions.  By taking this approach, you leave yourself with more cropping options and the occasional surprise of something cool in the frame you did not notice while composing the shot.
Are you looking at me-
While on the subject of cropping, I will take a moment to share a couple of thoughts.  Other than cropping a shot to such a small size you loose the ability to print it at a desirable size, I encourage you to be aggressive with cropping. 
There has never been a very good reason to not crop photographs, but in the digital era, all excuses have disappeared.  With post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Aperture, cropping is an easy task.  With the ever widening array of printing and displaying options, the size and proportion of the final product are not limitations. 
Georgetown Kayaks
This knowledge is liberating.  It means that when cropping, you need only consider the best composition for the final photograph, and maintaining a sufficient size to allow display.  In other words, you can make the horizon straight, move a leading line to begin from the lower left corner, modify the size and proportion to use the rule of thirds and the golden intersections.  Your limitations are few, so experiment!
Stare down with a Falcon
The lead-in photograph and those up to this point in the post are all examples of “filling the frame” in-camera.  The shots were not cropped.
The remaining photographs are pre and post processing examples of using the crop tool to achieve a filled frame.
Retriever at Maritime Museum - 10-2
Retriever at Maritime Museum - 10
In my opinion, the un-cropped shot of the retriever is not a bad composition.  However, the water adds very little to the shot and is not missed when cropped down to just the dog’s body with a 1/3 line running through his shoulders and head.
Piney Point Light-2
Piney Point Light
Again, the un-cropped version of Piney Point lighthouse is not a bad composition.  However, the crop more fully fills the frame, and brings the lighthouse and flagpole to the 1/3  lines adding both interest and balance to the shot.
Flag Ring at Washington Monument-2
Flag Ring at Washington Monument
This photograph of the ring of flags around the Washington Memorial in Washington DC was pretty well composed in the original with respect to filling the frame, but the crop achieved 3 things; 1) it straightened the shot (original is leaning to the left slightly), 2) it eliminated the distracting tree tops at the bottom, and 3) it brought balance to a line that runs through the flags from lower right to upper right – the line running through the flags draws your eye through the photograph.
The un-cropped version of the musicians has a great deal of negative space at the top.  The foreground carpet also adds little to the composition.  The cropped version eliminates the distracting background light, compacts the picture, and fills the frame nearly completely with the musicians.
Vietnam Memorial Reflecting the Washington Monument-2
Vietnam Memorial Reflecting the Washington Monument
The un-cropped version of the Washington Monument reflected on the Vietnam Memorial is visually confusing in the lower half due to the reflections of the visitors and the walkway.  In the cropped version, the distractions are eliminated, the monument more fully fills the frame (vertically), and we retain some of the darker reflections along the side and bottom corners to frame the shot.  In both versions, the Washington monument lies along a 1/3 line balanced by a seam in the monument near the opposing 1/3 line.
Go make some photographs, and fill the frame!

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