Cropping and Framing / Thoughts on Composition

This continues from Exercise 1.3.

In simple terms I suppose I’d always thought that framing happens through the viewfinder and cropping happens afterwards, usually as a result of not actually fully seeing when originally framing an image and finding unwanted elements appearing. For me, cropping was usually just a way to remove those unwanted elements and come closer to the original I’d had in mind. I’m really just at the beginning of trying to think about this in a different way.

Framing is essentially what you choose to draw attention to – what to include in an image and what to exclude from it.  Framing then, in the context of the exercise preceding the question, is about a set of decisions about how to look at a subject; what you choose to exclude being just as important to the final message of the image as what’s included really. In the context of exercise 1.3, I think that framing lines in an image that act to lead in to the subject can also lead out, giving more of an illusion of a continuation of a world outside of that frame. But lines that cut across the image rather than leading in seem more honest or stark. They can leave the frame but to me also seem to have more of an effect on the frame because they can cut across it.

I sometimes use a frame within the frame of the image to draw attention to a subject. Looking at the way I do that, I’m not sure about composition being ‘a device for retarding recognition of the frame’ as Victor Burgin is quoted as saying in the course materials. Is that what is happening? I suppose that in general it acts to draw my attention away from the edges of the image, but perhaps sometimes I don’t want to do that? Sometimes I think I want the person looking at the image to see the frame, almost to see something more brutal. To  me, I think what is happening in most images like this is that the subject sits within the frame and the edges can act as a device to draw your attention to it. But I suppose the eye is still travelling in and not out.

Horse Guards
Frame within frame

Looking at the work of Walker Evans online (I wasn’t able to look at the book), I can see the images seem to be taken head-on and are very stark, which along with the subject matter gives a certain feeling of honesty. A feeling that nothing is being hidden, that there is no attempt to hide the subject or make it attractive. It seems that people are looking directly at the camera, straight into the lens. I rarely take photographs of people, but I imagine that as it’s the way passport photos are supposed to be taken then it must be the most unflattering way to do so. Anyway, for me the inclusion of text on shop fronts etc also adds to this authentic feeling , although I find it difficult to explain why.

I realise that the way I frame an image very much depends on what the purpose of taking it is, not just on the subject. And perhaps zoom lenses are part of this? If I zoom in or out, essentially I am cropping the image or reframing it, as well as changing the way the elements in it are seen.

As for cropping, I’m not sure what the text means when it talks about there being a clear distinction between cropping and framing in the work of Evans? Perhaps when I get to see the book I’ll have a better idea of what that means. I did find this image by Evans though and wondered why it hadn’t been cropped; if it were me I know I would automatically crop it to the faces of the two boys looking at the camera. But I do have a sense of there then being something I would miss, because like this I wonder what the third boy is looking at, and who the others are and why they are not included?

Image by Walker Evans used for educational purposes

I’m often thinking about what I’ll have to crop from the image to make it work as a square while composing in a rectangular format. That’s about using an iPhone SE for a lot of images and sharing them on Instagram. It’s strange, but when I take images with my iPhone I know I can choose to compose in a square, but I don’t. I use the standard view and crop instead. I also crop because when I’m using my phone the zoom reduces the image quality so much that if I’m unable to get close then cropping is more useful for composition than zooming.

Thinking about cropping and framing makes me think more about composition in general and the way that different shapes work in different formats. For me, circular subjects are more aesthetically pleasing in squares rather than rectangles. It makes me want to experiment with taking images that will have a circular frame instead of a square or rectangular one.

january upload (80 of 103)
I don’t think this would work in portrait or landscape format.



These sketches from my paper learning log are thinking about lines in images and how they work with or within the frame. It’s interesting (to me) that I did them all in square frames. Numbers 16 and 17 in the left image represent my ongoing frustration with converging verticals. I don’t like software for correcting them, I cannot buy a lens that will correct for them, so I think about how I can try and make them work.


Published by Sarah Cassin Scott


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