The Psychology Behind Framing Your Photos

Photographs have become the means by which we create and save our memories. Whether it’s just a family photo or an artistic scene that you’d like to preserve forever, you want to show off your composition to the rest of the world.

It also doesn’t matter how you create a certain photo and weather it leaves room for more formatting. Either way, there is some psychology behind framing our photos in certain ways to achieve a specific look.

Dimensions And Directions of a Framed Photo

When it comes to a framed photo, you really have to take into consideration how big you want the frame to be and whether you want to frame it vertically or horizontally. This is because a photograph is always bound by spatial dimensions that are limited to the frame of the image.

Before the development of digital photography, most people were limited to 3:2 width to height ratio, which was the standard format for 35mm film. After digital photography was developed, the more common format is 4:3 width to height ratio. The change in format has allowed for a horizontal expansion that creates a more natural image.

Choosing Between Horizontal and Vertical Composition for A Framed Photo

The human being’s natural vision is to see things in a horizontal view, which is a strong influence on the reason we compose and hang a framed photo in a certain way. What also influences this view is the way the camera is held; it’s easier to hold them in a position that creates a horizontal composition than a vertical one.

However, when the subject of a photograph is quite tall, it would make more sense to frame it vertically so that the entire thing can be captured. It really depends on the subject matter of the photograph that determines its composition.

Placing The Photo Within the Frame

The general rule of thumb is that the object that is the subject of the photograph tends to be a bit off-center, one way or another. If the object is framed horizontally, it is more pleasing to the eye if it to one side of the frame rather than being in the exact middle. In the case of an object being framed vertically, it’s more pleasing if the subject has a lower placement in the frame. This gives it a sense of stability, rather than towering over someone and creating a sense of uneasiness. 

Placement of A Single Subject Within the Frame

If there’s just a single subject in the frame, then it would seem logical to place it right in the center, but this can make the whole piece look quite boring. Having empty spaces on all sides will make it appear too stark and predictable. That’s why it’s a good idea to experiment with the positioning of the subject on different sides of the image to see what works best.

The best way to compose your photos is to use the Gestalt Theory. This theory is based on the idea that the human brain works to automatically find structure and patterns in an image in order to organize and simplify the different elements that are present. This theory becomes even more important when the subject matter is relatively small, as it can be placed off-center and add more tension to the image. The results are that the subject matter will be perceived as retreating from the center of the photo towards the edge or striving towards the middle in order to create balance.

Placement of Multiple Subjects Within the Frame

If there are multiple subjects present in the photograph, then your composition needs to be balanced between those subjects. This can be done in a variety of ways, depending on what kinds of objects are present in your photo. You may want to have opposite subjects balancing each other out on opposite sides of the frame or have similar subjects resting together to create some kind of harmony. It’s all about experimentation to find what works best for the kind of image you’re trying to create.

The Visual Weight of A Framed Photograph

Naturally, when a person looks at a photograph, they’re drawn to what interests them the most. But there are some indisputable facts as to what the eyes are naturally drawn to first and what grabs their attention. People tend to focus on the emotional parts of the image first because their subconscious is producing a feeling or emotion.

For example, people are likely drawn to faces first because they are considered to be the most attractive visual element of a photograph. The eyes are usually the first part of the face too, followed by the mouth.

The second feature that eyes are usually drawn to is writing of any kind. That’s because the brain naturally wants to make sense of something going on in the photo, some element that provides information as to what is taking place and where. What’s interesting is that the eyes will be drawn to writing even when it’s written in a foreign language that the viewer doesn’t understand.

What usually draws attention next are the elements in the frame, determined by how prominent they are in the photo, as well as how they’re composed within the frame.

Of course, art has always been subjective to individual interpretation, so how an image is framed should be treated the same way. What one person sees isn’t necessarily going to be viewed the same way as another person. This can make it difficult for any photographer, as they’re never going to be able to draw their audience’s attention in the right direction every single time. But what they can do is help them understand or at least incentivize them to look in the right direction, especially when it comes to the different elements and the composition of the piece. Through experimentation and careful planning, a photographer can create a story they want their viewers to see, elicit specific emotions, or simply draw the viewer’s attention to one particular spot.