Vacation photographers traveling through Europe, for instance, are regularly presented with an ideal natural framing opportunity by shooting through ancient archways to view the scene beyond. Instead of simply standing in the open air of a plaza and pointing your camera at a cathedral, take a few steps back to incorporate the structure itself into the framing.
Not only does this approach work well compositionally, but it also adds information and visual interest to the scene. For instance, you can now see the weathered old stone that comprises the structure in close-up, with clearer detail, than when it’s only in the far away subject. That helps to illustrate the age and makeup of the materials pictured, which makes the picture more informative.
Now, natural framing doesn’t have to be quite so formal and deliberate as shooting a cathedral through the visible opening of an archway. And the foreground elements don’t need to be in such sharp focus, either.
With portraits and landscapes, for instance, or a variety of other subjects, you can position yourself so that you’re shooting past foreground elements that are very close to the camera to add to the illusion of depth in the photograph. When photographing outdoors, tree branches and foliage offer a tremendous opportunity to place foreground elements at the edges of a composition. A hanging tree branch can be a natural frame similar to a stone archway, but it can also be made less obvious and out of focus by moving closer to it, until the leaves themselves sneak into the frame. By being less clearly in focus they don’t distract from the subject, and in fact, can add to the photograph by enhancing the sensation of depth.
With foreground objects forming out-of-focus shapes at the edges of the composition, the feeling of depth is produced and the eye is pushed toward the center of interest without distracting from it with sharply focused details. This bit of texture at the edges can be a great way to build depth and add visual interest. The key in this instance is to ensure the camera is very close to the foreground elements to ensure they’re appropriately out of focus and don’t become a distraction.