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Composition and Framing

Composition and Framing for Photographers

One of the most asked questions I get from beginner photographers is how to pose people. But posing actually has a bigger base in composition and in-image framing (meaning how the other things in your location/image actually hold the subject), so I'll go over that first!


Often I see a few things that are repeated over and over.

1: The "I don't love you" gap. People have personal bubbles, but they're obviously invisible. We don't stand 2 inches away from each other to talk. We back up, out of each other's personal space. It feels uncomfortable when we stand too close. So for that reason, when you don't actually direct people on how to sit in a group, there will be spaces between them. Visually, this feels BAD, as if we are disconnected from the other people in the frame. There's a gap between people that makes them look like they don't actually want to be near that other person. It's the "I don't love you" gap.

2: Trees growing out of people's heads. This is the one I see the MOST. Pay attention and either move yourself or your subjects.

3: Totem pole heads. You know what a totem pole looks like, right? A bunch of heads all in one vertical line? Don't do that in your pictures.

4: Chopped off fingers or toes.

5: Seeing the bottoms of shoes. It's distracting when I can see the bottoms of someone's shoes, especially when there are tags still on them.


In each image below, we'll look at a beginner shot, how the first shot was wrong, then how to fix it.

This family is one of my super awesome clients, they signed up to be victims for this mess because I was giving a talk about how to pay attention to backgrounds while shooting. :) I promise, they got good images in the end!


So for this image set, I told them to go ahead and have a seat on the grass, facing me. I turned around to back up, and this is what I saw. What's wrong here?

Let's run down the list: I see two plant ID signs, a tree growing out of mom's head, totem pole heads, unflattering legs, and a dark shadowy pit on the far left of the image.

And here's how I fixed it. I had them scoot about 2 feet to the left, them posed them all leaning into each other. No trees, signs, totem pole heads, or icky no-love gaps. Thing I could have fixed even in this image include dad's fingers out of nowhere and seeing the bottom of the girl's shoes.


What's going on here?

Oh my. She's being skewered in the head with that fence behind her, there's a giant bright space taking up a quarter of the frame, and she's a finger amputee! Also, the pose is just dead center of her and the image.

And here's the fixed image. I moved myself up and left to fix the crappy center posing and the bad horizon fence head impalement. I also turned away from her a little to get rid of that bright spot, plus I got all of her fingers in frame this time.



Ohhhh kay there's a lot of horrible things going on here.. What do you see?

First off, mom is wearing that plant hat, we've got totem pole heads again, and they're standing on a line that looks weird.. but most important is NO ONE IS TOUCHING each other. They look like they hate each other.

Okay so fixing some of those issues gave us new ones. I moved them away from the line of bricks and moved me to the right.. but now...

We've got tree antlers on dad, and the sweep of the branches leads the eye right out of the frame, and the foreground flowers are distracting.

I moved myself to the right again. Now the tree branches sweep over the family, holding them into the frame. The bush on the right and wall on the left make that an even more firm feeling. They feel anchored and sheltered.




Return of the amputee and head pole!
Dad's got tree antlers again, mom looks like she's about to rip his arm off, the sun is pretty harsh, and what is the girl doing with her arms?

Better. I moved to my right and in closer, though she could still be sitting up straighter.

I moved them to the right a bit and had them all hold hands instead of tearing off arms.



There's a nice slumpy pose, I lopped off her toes again, and the vines are going totally everywhere!

The tree shadows the parent's heads, and dad thinks he's gently touching his daughter's should but instead looks like he's protecting his junk.

Scoot her away from the messy vines, sit up straight. :P

Step out from under the trees a bit, and put your whole hand on her arm.



Tilted images are cool sometimes, but it can go too far and looks like they're all just falling out of the frame. The IDLY gap is back.

Help help, she's falling out of the frame! Seriously, if that wall was tilted like that in real life, she's roll right off of it.

Still tilted a little, but it's not as noticeable.

Still tilted a little, but it's not frightening.



Okay ignoring that tree growing out of her head is really hard, and what the heck is going on with her elbow?? Ouch!!

Someone get her something for that giant pile of green poo on her head. The wall there doesn't help this either.


Heather Lickliter Larkin - 706-338-4414 - 160 Winston Dr Athens GA 30605

Athens, Watkinsville, and into Atlanta - Available for travel to Seattle, Portland, and New Orleans

heather@fairyography.com - info@stylizedportraiture.com