Subframing in Photography Composition

Subframing is a compelling composition technique that allows you to create more intriguing and layered images. By using elements within the scene to create a frame within the frame, photographers can guide the viewer’s attention, add depth, and enhance the storytelling aspect of their images. This blog post will delve into the concept of subframing, discuss its benefits, and provide tips on how to effectively use this technique to elevate your photography.

Understanding Subframing

Subframing involves using components of your scene to create a secondary frame within your image. This could be anything from architectural elements, like windows or doorways, to natural features like tree branches or rocks. By positioning these elements around the edge of your composition, you can isolate your subject in a way that draws the viewer’s eye directly to it.

Benefits of Subframing

  • Focus on the Subject: Subframing naturally draws the viewer’s attention towards the main subject, helping it stand out amidst potentially busy or distracting backgrounds.
  • Added Depth: Using elements in the foreground and background to create a frame adds layers to your photograph, enhancing its three-dimensional feel.
  • Narrative Quality: A frame within a frame can introduce context or suggest a story, adding a narrative element to your image.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Subframing can add a creative and artistic touch, making images more visually appealing and engaging.

Tips for Effective Subframing

  • Look for Natural Frames: Pay attention to your environment and identify potential frames such as windows, archways, or foliage.
  • Experiment with Depth of Field: Using a shallow depth of field can blur the framing elements, placing greater emphasis on your subject while still benefiting from the subframe.
  • Consider the Light: Lighting can impact how your subframe and subject interact. For instance, backlighting can silhouette your frame, highlighting the subject inside.
  • Play with Perspectives: Changing your angle or perspective can turn ordinary elements into effective frames. Sometimes, getting lower or finding a higher vantage point can reveal framing opportunities.
  • Keep It Simple: While subframing adds complexity to your composition, it’s crucial not to overcomplicate it. Ensure that the framing elements do not overshadow the main subject.
  • Use Editing to Enhance: Post-processing can help refine your subframed shots. Adjusting contrast, sharpness, or vignetting can further draw attention to your framed subject.

Framing vs Subframing:

While both framing and subframing are compositional techniques that involve the use of elements within the scene to enhance the photograph, they serve different purposes and are employed in distinct ways. Framing, in its traditional sense, refers to the use of foreground elements to create a border around the entire photograph, helping to isolate the main subject and draw the viewer’s eye towards it. This technique typically involves using the edges of the scene to enclose the subject, offering a sense of completeness and focus.

Subframing, on the other hand, is a more nuanced approach where the photographer uses elements within the scene—not just at the edges—to create a secondary, often smaller frame within the image. This internal frame leads the viewer’s eye to a particular area or subject, adding an additional layer of context or meaning. Subframing can be more subtle and complex, allowing for richer narratives and a deeper sense of space within the photograph.

In essence, while traditional framing defines the outer boundary of an image, subframing introduces an inner boundary or point of interest that guides the viewer deeper into the scene. This inner frame can intersect with the edges of the photograph or float entirely within the image, offering a unique and compelling way to highlight the focal point and add depth to the composition.


Subframing is a powerful compositional tool that can add depth, focus, and narrative to your photographs. By mindfully observing your environment and experimenting with different techniques, you can master subframing and create more impactful and meaningful images. Remember, the best way to improve is to practice, so grab your camera and start exploring the world of subframing.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a budding photographer, incorporating subframing into your compositional toolkit can transform your visual storytelling and elevate your photographic work.