Module 4: The Frame

0 Posted by - June 8, 2014 - Courses, Photography Appreciation
Tom Wood, Mad Max, 1993

Tom Wood, Mad Max, 1993

In this module, we begin our examination of the elements of the photographic image, and the first photographic element is framing. The frame is the outside boundary of the picture and it is the first means by which the photographer structures the content of an image. Framing begins in the camera viewfinder, continues through cropping and is completed with the creation of the visual frame boundaries of the photograph in the darkroom. By selecting the frame, the photographer is choosing what is important in the visual field and how that will be arranged and presented to the viewer. In short, through conscious framing, the photographer begins to establish the intent of the photograph.

By selecting the frame, the photographer is choosing what is important in the visual field and how that will be arranged and presented to the viewer.

The two primary approaches to conscious framing are active and passive framing. In Active Framing, the structure of the picture begins at the frame edge and works inward. The framing is an active and apparent selection by the photographer and imposes their meaning on the scene. In Passive Framing, the composition seems to start in the middle and work outward to the frame edge. It emphasizes the primary subject matter in the frame and not the subjective selection of the photographer. Compare the active framing in Raghubir Singh’s Pavement mirror shop, Howrah, West Bengal, 1991, top, with the passive framing in Tom Wood’s Mad Max, 1993.

But the importance and effect of framing goes well beyond photography. It is what a person pays attention to in the world around them, and is a reflection of the personality of the viewer. Framing is how one chooses to see the world and their place in it. As the philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The reality you experience at any given moment is determined by what you are paying attention to at that moment.” So framing is our selection of reality and experience. Our quality of life begins with how we frame it, and photography helps teach us that essential life skill.

Question: How do the contrasting framing approaches in the photographs above affect the feeling you get from each image? Share your impressions in the comments section below.

Module Content

With these concepts in mind, please read and view the following module content. The key concepts and terms for photographic framing are outlined in your first reading.

The Elements of Photography, Chap. 1: Framing and Borders (PDF)

Framing begins in the camera, introduced in the last module, and is completed during image processing in the darkroom. The following tutorial introduces you to the digital darkroom and Photoshop. – Photoshop CS6 One-on-One: Fundamentals – DUE AT THE END OF MODULE 6

Framing is also part of the thinking skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century. This reading outlines the mental abilities that will be the most valuable in our technological age.

David Brooks, “What Machines Can’t Do”

Featured Photographer: Imogen Cunningham

Imogen Cunningham, Phoenix Recumbent, 1968

Imogen Cunningham, Phoenix Recumbent, 1968

Imogen Cunningham is one of the preeminent 20th Century American photographers, and her use of framing and design typify her singular photographic vision. Read links about the photographer and her work here. As you consider Cunningham’s images, pay particular attention to the framing approach in her photographs.

Exercise 1

At this point in the course it is important to expand the amount and variety of your photographic viewing. For this exercise, spend a significant amount of time surveying the photographers and photographs in the galleries below. Pick a favorite photograph and submit it to Dropmark with an explanation in the description section of why you selected the photograph as a favorite. Use concepts and terms from this course in your analysis.

Randall Scott Projects, Washington, D.C. 
Jen Bekman Gallery, New York 
Robert Klein Gallery, Boston 
Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery, Dallas
Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco 

Full Directions

Exercise 2

Read the Featured Photographer links and research photographs by Imogen Cunningham. Then find and add your favorite photograph by the photographer to the Dropmark collection. Write a photographic analysis of the photograph that explains why it is an effective and masterful work in terms of photographic framing. Identify the framing approach and explain how it is effective. Full Directions


Discussion Topic

Explain the role of framing, the first photographic element, in the construction of an image. Your post should be an academic application of the course material. Include at least two example images in the body of the post to support your points. Full Directions

Creative Practice

Now it’s time for you to start taking your own photographs. As you’ve been studying in this module, it all begins with the frame. Go out and produce a creative photograph using the frame in one of the ways discussed in the reading. Select interesting subject matter and then select a frame and approach that transforms the subject matter into an interesting and engaging photograph because of the way you framed it in the camera. Full Directions

Top Image: Raghubir Singh, Pavement mirror shop, Howrah, West Bengal, 1991