For many years, especially in my early photography days, I didn’t give much thought to the relationship between my primary point of focus and its surroundings. In most cases, it never had much of an impact (or at least I don’t think it did). However, as I grew into landscape photography, the idea of finding relationships between my primary subject and its surroundings became more important. It was no longer enough to simply present a waterfall, for example, to my viewers. I wanted to create a sense of interest and exploration. That’s where natural frames come into play.
Nowadays, instead of bee-lining it to my main subject, I take extra time to explore the surroundings. Usually, that involves walking away from the subject to find out whether there are other natural elements that can surround or flank it. In almost every case, this requires some luck in finding a series of trees or other objects and an opening large enough through which to frame the subject. It also means that the subject will usually take a less prominent role in the composition, which becomes an “ensemble” of sorts. The trees, branches and sky all become key actors alongside the main star, the waterfall.
Of course, you can have plenty of fun with this type of practice. In fact, the more unorthodox you allow yourself to get, the more fun I think you’ll have. On a recent trip to northern Norway, I found myself photographing on a rocky outcrop complete with massive wooden pylons used to hang fish to cure. I had already taken a series of photos that were “fine,” but not exceptionally impressive. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to have some fun and incorporate those pylons into my frame that I ended up getting some of my favorite photos from the shoot.
This concept of incorporating natural frames isn’t limited to landscapes. It can prove very useful with portrait photos as well. In my opinion, the key to this requires you to find a way to naturally include objects to frame your subject. Like with anything in photography, if it feels forced, it probably will fall flat with your viewers. But it’s a technique worth considering when the elements come together.
See more of Brian Matiash’s work at matiash.com.