- Find something unique to use as a frame. Don't settle for the cliché.
- Use it to lead the viewer's eyes directly to your subject's features.
The “frame within a frame” concept isn't a new idea for almost any photographer and it's effective in almost any type of photo. It's also very overused in some genres, in my opinion. Portraiture is one of those genres.
The problem with any great composition idea is that it can become an obsession with photographers in general. In the case of sub-framing in portraits, there are a couple of outstanding examples. If I never see another pretty girl or handsome guy holding a window frame or mirror in a portrait photo, I think I could live with that.
(Success Tip #1: Take portraits of people anywhere and turn them into profits}
Alright, maybe that's a bit harsh. I've seen both of those props used very effectively. Actually, that's the point of this article; using sub-framing in your portraits is a great idea, when it's used with purpose. The purpose of this composition technique is to focus the viewer's attention on the subject, rather than to simply create an artsy effect. In other words, in a portrait, anything you use to frame your subject should say, “Look at these gorgeous eyes!” rather than, “Look, it's a pretty girl holding this mirror! Cool, huh?”
(Success Tip #2: Improve your photography with weekly challenges.)
I hope you're seeing my point, but just to be sure, I'll be more concise. There are two important points to consider when you're considering using the “frame within a frame” concept in a portrait:
I believe these two very basic ideas will help you avoid overuse of the framing technique and help you use it to create better portraits.
Here's a quick video from Adorama's Bryan Peterson that illustrates using these ideas very well. It's only a couple of minutes long, so take the time to watch it and notice how he applies both of the points above. It's a great example that should help you expand on this concept in your own portraits. Enjoy!