A Quick & Easy Guide on Natural Framing for Street Photography

Natural Framing For Street Photography
Photo by: Arran James Carter-Cheetham

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Composition is a rather important aspect of photography. There are lots of great books on composition within photography such as ‘Picture This’ by Molly Bang, ‘Secrets of creating amazing Photos’ by Marc Silber, or ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ by Michael Freeman. All of these books show great subjects, great light but poor composition probably means the image isn’t so good. If you can nail your composition, chances are you have increased the likelihood of creating a compelling image. This obviously applies to street photography and there are a few easy compositional techniques you can use next time you’re out taking images. In this article we will look at natural framing. 

Why you may use natural frames

This is one of my favorite composition techniques in street photography. No matter where you are in the world, you can always find natural frames on the street. It is an effective way to ‘frame’ your subject and draw attention to them. Street photography can often present us with hectic scenes; too much happening almost. It’s sometimes hard for the audience to know what to look at when the scene is so busy. A natural frame can often be all it takes to clearly highlight what it is you want your audience to look at. 

Natural frames are also useful for hiding the distractions. An easy example could be shooting through a car window that passes by, which then hides all of the unnecessary foreground of the image, leaving only the subject and a small piece of the scene to tell the story.  

Another more artistic use for natural frames could be as simple as the frame actually fitting with the subject. An example of this could be a street food vendor, framed by his or her food stall.

How to find natural frames

This will depend on your shooting style. If you’re like me and enjoy shooting on the move rather than waiting in one area, you have to be a little more aware of your surroundings. This may mean that when you’re approaching a potential scene, you are already looking for things that could be used to frame your subject. This could be two street lamps, a shop window, a car window as mentioned before; the list goes on. It can be an awesome advantage if you can subconsciously begin to look for these frames. Anticipation of the subject will help to decipher what your frame could or should be.  

If however you shoot in a more methodical way, possibly finding a scene you like first and waiting for a subject to enter the scene, then finding a frame can be much easier. You now have time to look around and find some form of framing for your scene or subject; a doorway for example. A classic natural frame for street photography, you may find your doorway and wait for a subject to enter the frame you have selected. I have obviously used this technique myself, I just tend to be a little more active and walk more when I’m shooting street photography.

Easy options to look out for

A few easy frames come to mind that you could actively look for when you are out taking pictures.

Shop Windows:  A classic within street photography but shop windows, if used correctly can really add to the story in an image and help draw the viewer’s eye to the subject. 

Phone Boxes: Depending heavily on where you are based, phone boxes are an awesome natural frame. 

Lamp Posts/Street Lights: Another favorite of mine. If you shoot close to the post, you can easily hide any distractions and let the subject stand out within your scene. 

Trees/Bushes: Another easy option that can be found almost anywhere in the world. Using trees or bushes can really help with hiding distractions but can also really be used as an added element to tell a story. A great option for natural frames. 

Traffic or Transport: This could be anything, train, taxi, motorcycle, tuk-tuk. You name it. Using transport as a frame in your scene is again a classic in street photography and can be a really powerful compositional tool. 

How to improve your awareness of natural frames

One of my favorite ways to keep my eye sharp when looking for natural frames is to go out specifically with that in mind. I walk around Bangkok and scan every single scene for a frame I could use. Almost like a mini-project. It’s an awesome way to widen your vision for things that could pose as a natural frame. Give it a try I’m sure you’ll be amazed at how many good shots you end up with. 

To conclude, natural frames are a sure-fire way to add a little something to your images. A nice way of tidying up the mess within your scene. One of the best ways to draw attention to your subject. Be sure to hit the streets and search for natural frames that take your images to the next level.