When I review my older work, I can see mistakes that I made when I first started shooting four years ago and was learning photography. That is not to say I’m finished learning because I think it is an endless journey in developing your skills, but I'm going back to the days when I just basically pointed the camera and shot.
One of the biggest, yet simplest mistakes I often made, was not filling the frame when composing my shots. Many of my shots had unnecessary clutter and lacked a focal point which resulted in elements of the photo competing for the viewer’s attention.
Filling the frame is the simplest way to eliminate a busy or cluttered background, excluding irrelevant and distracting details from the shot that will only detract from the image you are trying to capture. Your images will have more impact and there will be no doubt to the viewer's eye what you intended to capture.
In addition, the larger the subject, the more detail that will be included in the shot. A dominant subject in a photo is more compelling and it will overshadow all the other elements of the image, and that is especially true when shooting people. By making your subject look bigger in the frame, a person looking at your photo is more likely to make an emotional connection to the subject.
The primary elements in a photo are the subject, foreground and background. In addition, there could be secondary elements or subjects that have to be taken into consideration when framing the shot and determining the composition of the photo.
The shot below was taken in the mountains of southern Haiti four years ago. Clearly, the photo could have been composed better. When I shot this, I had no idea about the rule of thirds! Everything was placed in the middle of the frame.
The children are obviously the focal point of the shot, but because of my distance from them, they are small in relation to their surroundings. I had enough room before reaching the water that I could have moved closer to the boys which would have increased the amount they filled the frame. A closer position would have allowed me to capture both their facial expressions and eyes which can help connect the viewer to the subjects while at the same time retaining the environment which helps to tell their story.
How do you fill the frame? There are two ways.
Get Close to Subject – It is often called zooming with your feet. Move as close as possible to the subject. If your subject is a car, fill the frame with as much of the car as you can. If you are shooting a portrait, get as close to the subject as you can to eliminate distractions and clutter from the shot.
Zoom In – There will be situations when you can't physically get as close to the subject as you would prefer. The only way to fill the frame will be by zooming the lens to create the desired composition. A benefit to using a telephoto lens is it will help to create a ‘soft background’ which helps to isolate the subject and can help to create a very pleasing photo.
When you feel your subject is close enough to photograph, move your eye around the frame and check if there is anything that can be eliminated from the shot.
The two shots below were taken in Maniche, Haiti two years ago. The first shot was captured from the position that I initially saw the little girl with a fixed length lens that prevented me from zooming. The shot is obviously very cluttered making it difficult for the eyes to settle on any one area of the image.
After taking the first shot, I moved closer to the little girl, changed my shooting angle, filled the frame and isolated her from the surroundings. In this case, the environment was not part of the story so I could eliminate all the distractions and focus on capturing her spirit.