Filling the frame

You’ve heard your photo instructor say, fill the frame, I’m sure.

I’ve said it enough here.

But it’s not just about using a long lens or even getting closer.

It’s about making the most important part of your subject more dominant.

If it’s a portrait, then it’s mostly likely the face.

Remember, if you choose to include their whole body, you will also see more background.

This is especially true if you are out and about and not in a studio with a seamless background.

Here are two examples I which I hope will make my point.

Parents and kids


We all take pictures of parents and their kids all the time.

Again, the camera is not important here. We’re just framing or as some snobs will say  composition.

Backing up–In the picture above, I included more of the scene to show what I cropped out and also how I draped the back of the chair with my backdrop.

Any time there is a big disparity in the height of faces, what happens?

That translates into the photographer not utilizing that precious canvas of ours well.

The sooner you become a curmudgeon about how you use that 2-dimensional space, the sooner you’ll see improvement in your pictures.

Utilizing space–See the picture of the setup to get an idea of what I mean. I draped my grey backdrop over the 2 chairs so that the chairs themselves don’t become a distraction. If you use chair with backs like I did, but don’t have a backdrop to cover the chair, crop out the chair if you can.

Next time you do a family portrait with small kids, have the parents do the crouching tiger stance if they’re not octogenarians. 🙂

If the adults find it hard to get low, have the kids stand on something to bring their faces closer to the height of the parents.

If you can’t find something for the kids to stand on, have the adults pick those kids up, closing the distance between … (I love an intelligent audience who can finish my thoughts)

But only do this,  if those kids are not heffers or over 50 pounds. 😉

Wouldn’t be cool if grandpa throws his back out trying to comply with demanding photographer.

You can also try putting the little ones on the parent’s shoulders. If you try this, make sure the kid’s faces are not hidden by the adult’s big head.

The more distance between the heads in your portraits, the less effective.

If you have someone like me who’s short who constantly messes up group shots, find some steps or stairs and do that group shot there.


We don’t always need to see the top of the heads in a portrait, do we?

I swear it’s there even if I don’t include it.

When you lop off the top of someone’s head, it may hurt but in a picture, it doesn’t.

It makes their eyes bigger, draws you into the windows of their soul.

Sorry, about that cliché. It’s before 8 am and I haven’t had my coffee.

We all know it’s there. It is implied.

Tight can be right–This picture by one of my students Yesenia Barnett shows exactly what I mean about implying the top of the head is there.

By composing so tight, the eyes are now even more engaging. It’s as if you are forcing the viewer to gaze at those eyes in the portrait.

I sent out a gang email to some of you who had taken the trouble to comment. Since this blog isn’t just about me, I needed to know about you guys. You know personal stuff like, your credit card number, whether your spouse snores and how much you drink and how many packs you smoke.

Thanks for answering my email Calliope Georgousi, Shane Bates, Sara Seigfried. I learned a lot. Jessica Burnett suggested I stop whining about my readership. You know she’s right. There’s life out there, and they have even told me they like what they read. If you haven’t already, go to the right sidebar and rate this site, 35 of you have done so.

Thanks also to Dissatisfied and Alexis Alvarez for letting me have it. Read their comments, and  follow the hyperlink to their work. I’ve always felt this blog is also a learning tool for me.

How much fun can it be if everyone who takes the trouble to post, agrees with me all the time? I’ve yet to delete anyone’s comments, so hit me with your best shot. No one person can know it all.

11 thoughts on “Filling the frame”

  1. Hello CheriAnn,
    Thanks for taking the time/trouble to say hello. I appreciate very much your comment. Most folks just read quietly and I always wonder if anyone is reading. lol 🙂 Hearing from a ‘live’ person does make it more fun for me.

    Let me know if you have questions. If you have a picture to share with that question, all the better, it gives me a more concrete way to make suggestions. No right or wrong way, possibly another approach you might not have thought of, is how I look at it.

  2. I enjoy your writing! Down-to-earth, helpful, “real.” I’ve only read a few so far. Looking forward to reading more, but wanted to take a moment to let you know I appreciate you!

  3. Hello Jeff,
    Thanks for reading and taking the trouble to leave a comment. I’m pleased you got something out of this post.

    To get ideas on what to write about, may I ask the following?

    • Model of your camera. Canon Rebel XTi, Nikon D40 etc
    • What photo editing software do you use? Photoshop Elements? Picasa?
    • Which platform are you? Windows or Mac?
  4. As a newbie to the photography world, I appreciated this piece because in my limited experience, this is what I have enjoyed the most. I recently took a picture of my 94 yr. old grandmother that is similar to the one that you show above, and I absolutely loved it – even though the top of her head is missing!

    Great piece!

  5. You must be a city boy — don’t you mean ‘heifer’????????

    Good point, though. I am a close cropper on nearly everything, particularly people.

  6. Shane and Deborah,
    You are both too kind. I think you are both making a big deal out of nothing. What I had to say on filling the frame are just my observations. I wouldn’t call it knowledge.

    I’m certain there are many photographers who are more than aware of these techniques, if I may call them that. Sounds so pretentious when I call it that.

    My sincere apologies to those parents with kids who are a little on the chubby side. I had your parent’s back in mind when I referred to kids as heffers.

    Thank you Shane and Deborah.

  7. You have done it again Peter! Who says that education has to be dull! I especially like the way you worked in the word “heffer.”

    I have to admit, I am laughing while I type this!

    Thanks for another great post.

  8. Sorry about that Jo. So much for my thoroughness. I went through all the folks who commented and somehow I missed your name. Excuses, excuses sorry. This is embarrassing.

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