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Frame Within a Frame Photography: 17 Tips, Ideas & Examples!

Learn how to elevate your composition using the frame within a frame photography technique! Includes X pro tips + XX stunning examples for inspiration.

By Ana Mireles

Frame-within-a-frame photography is a creative way to highlight your subjects. Finding new and exciting frames is part of the fun. 

In this article, we’ll share with you some tips to improve your technique.

You’ll also find some ideas for applying frame-within-a-frame photography in different situations.

Whether you shoot on location, studio, or at home, you’ll find something that fits your style. 

So, if you’re ready, let’s get started. 

What Is Frame Within a Frame in Photography?

Credit: Phgaltri (left) / Marcus Silva (right). On the left image, the subject is framed with directional light. On the right image, the subject is framed by a door frame creating a frame-within-a-frame composition.

When you talk about framing in general, you can use anything to direct the viewer’s attention toward the subject. You can do this with leading lines, color, highlights and shadows, or objects. 

Instead, frame-within-a-frame photography is more literal. In this compositional technique, you place your subject inside a second frame.

The first frame refers to the edge of the photograph – hence the name, frame within a frame.

There aren’t any rules regarding the shape of the frame. It can be squared, circular, oval, etc., as long as it’s a defined border. 

You can use the frame within a frame technique to add visual interest to your photograph. But it’s also a helpful tool for storytelling. We’ll see how you can use it and some example photos further in the article. 

Why Does the Frame Within a Frame Technique Work?

Here are some of the reasons why this composition technique is so effective:

  • Directs the viewer’s eye
  • Establishes a point of view
  • It can be used for a voyeuristic feel
  • Adds depth
  • Provides context
  • It helps to narrow the composition on wider aspect ratios
  • It could be a tool to reflect the subject’s state of mind
  • Separates different planes

What is a sub-frame in photography?

Sub-frame is another way of calling the frame within a frame technique. The sub-frame is the second frame introduced inside the edges of the photograph. Hence, a frame within a frame. 

You can find the same technique with either name when you’re researching this type of composition. 

How Do You Frame Within a Frame in Photography? 3 Tips

Now that you know how to do it check out these frame-within-a-frame ideas for your photography.

1. Establish different planes

Credit: Cosmic Timetraveler

As you know, a photograph is a flat surface. However, inside the picture, we represent a scene with different planes.

The foreground is what’s closest to the camera, and the background is what’s further away. The middle ground is anything in between the two.  

The most typical composition to use in frame-within-a-frame photography is to place the frame in the foreground.

Then, the main subject can be part of the background or elements in the middle ground. 

Of course, this is the most common composition technique because it helps to create depth.

However, you can have the frame and the main subject in the same plane. Or, you can use the background to frame the subject effectively. 

Further in the article, we’ll see some ideas and examples of using different planes in the scene to do frame-within-a-frame photos.

2. Control the depth of field

Credit: Ankur Dawar

The depth of field refers to how much of the photograph is in focus. You can control it by balancing the focal length, the aperture, and the distance between the camera and the subject.

If you use a foreground object as a frame, make sure you use a shallow depth of field. This way, you won’t have distracting elements drawing attention away from the subject. 

Some photos benefit from having everything in focus—for example, landscapes. 

3. Add other composition techniques

Credit: Cottonbro

Frame within a frame is a great compositional technique. However, you can add another composition rule for a more interesting picture. 

For example, if your main subject includes multiple elements, use the rule of odds.

You can also compose the elements in shapes, such as a triangle. 

Frame Within a Frame Photography Ideas & Examples

Now you know the basics for a successful composition, check out these frame-within-a-frame examples to get some inspiration.

This way, you’ll have some ideas on how to find or create framing opportunities.

1. Build arch props

Credit: Josue Velasquez

You’ll find arches built with flowers or balloons in many event venues.

Simply place your subjects underneath them to create frame-within-a-frame photography.

This is a successful technique for birthday or wedding photos. You can also create your own if you’re working in the studio. 

2. Use a window frame

Credit: Ajay Meganathan (left) / Liz Sanchez Vegas (right)

Architectural elements are great for making frame-within-a-frame photography. One of the most common is the use of a window frame. 

This is an excellent frame method if you want to do silhouette photography.

It’s also perfect if you want to add a rim light to your subject. 

3. Door frame

Credit: Hoang Hi (left) / Sang Tran (right)

Door frames are another great example of architectural elements framing the main subject.

Urban photographers often use this composition technique. This is because cities are full of interesting frames.

You don’t need the door to be open to create beautiful frame-within-a-frame photography.

The door frame is enough to draw attention to the main subject. 

Of course, an open door offers wonderful possibilities to enhance the background if you want to add depth.

For example, a balcony door with a beautiful view behind the framed subject.

4. Have your main subject walk down the hallway

Credit: DSD

Hallways are great for frame-within-a-frame photography. Thanks to the perspective, it looks as if there were multiple frames around the main subject. 

This effect makes for a visually interesting photo and is perfect for adding depth.

Most photographers look for locations with arches or a colonnade. This allows them to photograph people with an interesting frame. 

5. Look for natural frames

Credit: Maël Balland

You can also make frame-within-a-frame photography if you work in a natural setting.

For example, you can have your subject framed within tree branches. 

Another natural frame is to take a photo of your main subject through tree leaves.

If you use a shallow depth of field, you can blur the foreground, creating a frame within a frame.

Since your main subject will be the only element in focus, it will attract the viewer’s eye. 

6. Experiment with incomplete frames 

Credit: Angela Roma

Frame-within-a-frame photography also works with incomplete frames.

Our brains are great at filling gaps in information.

They can recognize shapes that aren’t there with just part of them.

For example, if you use a Pacman shape around the main subject.

The viewer’s eye will still be drawn to it even if the circle isn’t a complete frame.  

7. Use an actual frame

Credit: Hudson Marques

A trendy technique to do frame within a frame composition is incorporating frames in the scene. I mean actual picture frames. 

Many portrait photographers bring a picture frame as a prop for the photoshoot. Of course, it can be used with any subject. 

The best part about this example is that a picture frame can have any size and color, so you can use it in any situation.

You can also get creative with the style of the frame. It can be minimalistic, baroque, vintage, or modern – the possibilities are endless.

8. Use your hands as a frame

Credit: Mayur Gala

You don’t need elaborate props or locations to do frame-within-a-frame photography. You can simply use your hands. 

In this case, the person is not the main subject. Being the frame, they become a compositional element framing the actual subject.

For example, you can create a heart with your hands framing a couple or the sunset. 

9. Use elements on the scene as frames

Credit: Ahmed Akacha

If you have a creative mind, you’ll find that multiple things work as frames everywhere around us. You just have to keep your eyes open. 

For example, if you go to a playground, you’ll find hoops all around. At a wedding, you can use the rings or the back of a chair. 

10. Use a filter

Credit: Darshak Pandya

If you find yourself out of props and there aren’t any frames on the scene, don’t despair.

Almost all photographers have filters in their camera bags. These are perfect if you want to make frame-within-a-frame photography.

If you have a UV filter, the image won’t be any different inside and out of the frame. You’ll only be using the circular edge to frame the subject. 

However, you can create very interesting photos with an ND filter, a polarizing filter, or a color one.

This is because the subject will not only be framed but will have a different exposure or toning than the rest of the scene.  

It’s very easy to create these images. You can simply hold the filter with your hands or use some sticky clay to hold it in place.  

11. Use a crystal ball

Credit: Arnesh Yadram

Crystal ball photos are very trendy, and they are frame-within-a-frame images. 

That’s because the crystal ball will frame the main subject. This is already enough to guide the viewer to the subject. Plus, anything outside the ball is out of focus. 

So, this is an excellent technique to keep the subject separate from the scene. 

12. Use a shadow

Credit: Martino Pietropoli

You can create frame lines by casting a shadow on your subject. You can experiment with the objects you use to cast shadows.

This way, you’ll create different shapes and frame sizes.

13. Try frame-within-a-frame product photography

Credit: Daria Liudnaya

The main goal of commercial photography is to highlight a product. You can do this by using frame-within-a-frame compositions. 

You can get creative with all sorts of objects. However, you can buy geometrical shapes. They are created specifically for product photography, and they work as frames. 

14. Frame-within-a-frame photography ideas at home

Credit: Pixabay

You don’t need to go to exotic locations to create interesting frames. There are tons of possibilities to do frame-within-a-frame images inside your house. Here are a few ideas:

Mirror  – Whether they are full-body or pocket ones, we all have a mirror at home. They offer many creative possibilities to do frame-within-a-frame self-portraits.

Rings – If you have a ring, you can use it as a frame within your shot. Because they are so small, you’ll probably have to be far away from your subject. So, pay attention to the depth of field. 

Picture frames – as I already mentioned in another tip, an actual frame is the perfect way to do this technique.

Peepholes – Not all peepholes work for the frame-within-a-frame technique. However, if you have one of those old key locks, they can be a very original frame for your picture.

Door/window frame – doors and windows are the most common frames for this type of photography. 

Fireplace – You can use the fireplace as a frame in the background for any subject. Also, you can create a scene for a still-life photo inside the fireplace. You can get as creative as you want.

Now, Create Interesting Frames for Yourself | Final Words

As you can see, there are many possibilities for creating frames in every situation.

Whether you bring the frames with you or use objects on the scene, creating frame-within-a-frame compositions is easy.

I hope these ideas get your creativity going. You’ll see that once you start, you’ll find framing opportunities everywhere you look. 

If you want to share some of your favorite ways to frame your subject, please do so in the comments section.

You’re also welcome to ask any questions you have about this technique. Let us know what you’re creating with your own frame within a frame photography – we’re always happy to hear from you!

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Shotkit Writer & Camera Gear Reviewer

Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

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