On Letting The Walls Of Your Frame Breathe

By |2012-06-07T10:56:55+00:00Jun 6th, 2012|

Today’s anecdote and image are both more illustrative, advisory and cautionary than anything else. While I do love the end result of this image, it does illustrate a failure, as it were, on my part when I nabbed these brackets and I’m hoping that it’ll help serve as educational for those of you reading.

If there is one sensation that I get from this shot, it would be claustrophobic and for one reason in particular – do you see how that ‘One Way’ sign almost meets the edge of the frame? That little infraction on my part really does impact me in a big way. I don’t remember why I didn’t catch that when I took the original images, I’m usually pretty strict on giving the walls of the frame some room. For me, crowding any one side of an image by letting a dominant  element either bisect or hug the edges causes a sense of tightness, unease, and the aforementioned claustrophobia. I’m sure this will differ from person to person and, likely, from image to image.

Ultimately, I felt that the image was greater than the sum of its parts and I wanted to share it here as a way to share one of my own learning lesson in composition. Now, like any lesson that involves something as subjective as photography, take it on a case-by-case basis and be your own auditor as to whether the rule applies to you or not.

In the end, you are the one who has to love your image more than anyone else. The key is to know what it is that you love about it… and what you don’t – because it’s in those areas that you truly start to grow as an artist.

In terms of processing
This is a nine exposure tone-mapped HDR image (via Photomatix) taken with my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 17mm Tilt-shift lens. I took it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY a few years ago. Stylization was achieved in PhotoTools 2.6, the predecessor to the current Perfect Effects 3, by +onOne Software. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the specific effects applied because of how much time elapsed but I can likely recreate it if anyone wants to know.

In album Pic Picks Over The Years (1 photo)

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  1. Kelly-Shane Fuller June 6, 2012 at 9:26 am - Reply

    Thats one of my big pet peeves as well, as you say: It really makes a photo claustrophobic. Especially where this would otherwise be a fairly open image.

  2. Brian Matiash June 6, 2012 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Indeed, +Kelly-Shane Fuller. I did toy with expanding the canvas size and using some content-aware voodoo to fill it in but I felt that the educational merit of sharing the image with this infraction outweighed that.

  3. Joe Ercoli June 6, 2012 at 9:27 am - Reply

    That's a great combination of leading lines +Brian Matiash . It's almost like lines with two different dynamics converging on a single point. Nice work, man…

  4. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 9:40 am - Reply

    Well said, Brian! I agree completely. The edges of the frame are very serious visual and subconscious boundaries, and need to be treated as such. The way the interact with any element of the image, be it major or minor, needs to be taken into consideration and handled intentionally. I think is so easy to get drawn into the subject matter when shooting, and totally disregard the space near the edges. But that space will determine if things feel cramped like you said, or even if the frame will contain the viewer well, or if something near the edges will lead the eye right out.

    It's all about putting all the pieces together. Thanks for the reminder!

    Also, even with a minor framing flaw, still a great image. Love the depth!

  5. Shelly Gunderson June 6, 2012 at 9:40 am - Reply

    Very nice.  Yeah, it's annoying when you get home and go to process a shot and there's something you didn't notice when composing that makes it not quite what you wanted.  I like this though.  Love the rail curving around into the shot to lead you in.

  6. Chris Smith June 6, 2012 at 9:44 am - Reply

    I hear what you are saying concerning the frame. However, the image does convey claustrophobia and if that were the desired effect it went smashingly well. In particular, the one way sign is pointing straight into a wall (or appears to from the angle). Many people can feel like their only option is to continue to bang into that wall. But look at those leading lines pointing the way out. There is always a way out if you are willing to stop charging into the wall and really look around.

  7. Brian Matiash June 6, 2012 at 9:46 am - Reply

    Not even going to lie, +Chris Smith – I do love your interpretation here. It definitely wasn't my intention as stated in the original text, but it'd be awesome if that was what someone else got out of it. Thanks for helping me consider that!

    A worthy winner of the Suite, indeed. :)

  8. Chris Smith June 6, 2012 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Thanks Brian. I sent you an email note via Google+ yesterday. Never tried that feature before so don't know if it went through. LOVING the Perfect Photo Suite!

  9. Dan Goldberger June 6, 2012 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Great shot. Really like how the tracks lead you through the frame to the vanishing point.  

  10. Amy Heiden June 6, 2012 at 10:50 am - Reply

    I agree, it's the worst feeling when you come back from shooting (especially from a trip) with an image you love and the framing was too tight. A good lesson to learn, but every so often I still wind up with these images. 

  11. Friedrich Sinofzik June 6, 2012 at 10:53 am - Reply

    wawww.. The deep sensation in this picture is amazing.

  12. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 11:02 am - Reply

    +Amy Heiden Same here! It's funny, with today's camera, there so much resolution that there rarely is a good reason not to just shoot it a little losser than you want, and crop to suit later on. But for whatever reason I, and I think most of us, have this fascination with shooting it just how you want in camera. But shooting it like that, doesn't give you the option to change you mind later on. Having options in post is almost always better trying to nail it down in camera. But I still find myself just deciding what I want in the field and committing to it unnecessarily. 

    And from the standpoint of anyone trying sell images, shooting looser gives the future designer more options in layout. I've talking to lots of Photo Editors and Art Directors, and the same thing keep coming back; very often they end up not using an image that they really like and would have licensed, except it's presentation wouldn't work the way they needed it to in layout. Basically, shoot looser + shoot more options = sell more pictures.

    But even knowing that, I still find this dumb, semi-subconscious proclivity to trying to nail it right in the field. Is it an ego thing or what?

  13. Amy Heiden June 6, 2012 at 11:06 am - Reply

    It's strange. I don't know what it is either.

    Better to have that mentality than "Fix it in post!" though +Ben Fullerton :-)

  14. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 11:13 am - Reply

    +Amy Heiden Yes and no. If fix it in post fix it in post, means be lazy in the field and don't get the best capture possible, than that's bad. But the best capture isn't always the closest to what you want the final image you envision. 

    I think the best mentality that I'm trying to get more in touch with, in "Finish it in post". Shooting in a way that sets you up best to get the final product you want, taking editing into account. It's definitely bad to count on "fixing it in post", but I also think we can shoot ourselves in the foot a lot, getting too tied up in nailing the capture. Where the two meet in the middle is where the magic happens.

  15. Brian Matiash June 6, 2012 at 11:21 am - Reply

    I don't think anyone necessarily goes out shooting with the idea that they'll take mediocre shots and make them better in post. That's just a tragic frame of mind to have.

    We all want to get the best possible image at the moment of capture. However, there is a flip-side to this. As photographers, it's not only about knowing how to use your camera to get the best possible frame in the field. On top of that, it's our responsibility to know how to use our software tools to further repair and refine the image, compensating for either mistakes or negligence in the field as well as to stylize it to the point that it meets our creative vision.

    Like I wrote in an earlier comment here, I could have easily extended the canvas size of this image and used content aware fill to take care of that gap and no one would have been any wiser. I know how to use the tools to fix the problem, however I never would have been in the field there and purposely taken the shot like this with the thought that I'd just repair it in post. It would have been much easier to take two more steps backwards. :)

    With that said, there have been plenty of times when I would be in the field and would shoot a frame knowing well ahead that I would be cloning out a particular element, especially if it was of something that I didn't have access or control to remove myself. I think that is totally ok, too. :)

  16. Kelly-Shane Fuller June 6, 2012 at 11:24 am - Reply

    I've talked to many photographers who excuse sloppy shooting by saying, well I'll fix it in post… I think thats nearly the same as shooting a mediocre shot with the idea that photoshop will make it good…
    I'm totally ok with shooting with post in mind. I had a thermostat right in the middle of a wall in my shoot last night. I left it there with the intention of cloning it out. But thats not shooting sloppy, thats knowing my tools.

  17. Brian Matiash June 6, 2012 at 11:29 am - Reply

    +Kelly-Shane Fuller You illustrate my point very lucidly. No excuse for not trying to take the best possible shot with camera-in-hand first. Post is exactly what it is – post. Not substitution.

  18. Amy Heiden June 6, 2012 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Trying to nail it in the field is the best way to go about photography. Certainly better than the "Fix it in post" mentality. That's what I was getting at with that comment. Striving for success in the field will make us all better photographers. 

    But I do like your comment better +Ben Fullerton. "Finish it in post" makes a lot more sense. 

    I've cloned small graffiti tags out of abandoned building photos a handful of times. For me, this is acceptable. Every person has their own methods, but I chose to be a person of little editing, so I try to get it as "right" as possible in the field. 

  19. Sandra Parlow June 6, 2012 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Thank you for this Brian.  I love hearing your thoughts…

  20. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Right on, +Brian Matiash, +Kelly-Shane Fuller and +Amy Heiden!

    I guess what I was very poorly trying to say is that, sometimes when we try to get too close to perfectly capturing exactly what we want, we end up limiting ourselves in post as to what that image could ultimately become. 

  21. Amy Heiden June 6, 2012 at 11:46 am - Reply

    I'm having a conversation on another thread with +Jeffrey Sullivan about post-processing and how magical it is to be behind a camera rather than a computer. Not sure why I didn't think about that before, but that's probably the one major reason why I'd rather get it right in camera. Time behind the camera is bliss. Time behind a computer is much less satisfying. Maybe it's the same for you +Brian Matiash, +Ben Fullerton and +Kelly-Shane Fuller

  22. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Definitely! Time behind the camera is way better than time behind the computer. Maybe if I put my camera in from of my computer, than it wouldn't be so bad…?

  23. Julie Jamieson June 6, 2012 at 11:53 am - Reply

    I love your posts +Brian Matiash they are so well thought out.  Great tips, thank you.  And I do love this photo :)

  24. Brian Matiash June 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    I see both as mutually exclusive of each other, +Amy Heiden and +Ben Fullerton. For me, the time spent behind the camera and in front of the computer have their own bliss, as you wonderfully put it, Amy. I get to create the actual canvas with the camera. I put the foundation and sketch marks there.

    When I get to post processing and stylization, I start adding some inks, oils, color, texture. I add more of my soul there. I can't ever produce that with a camera alone and so I find myself as excited to launch software as I do when I press the shutter button.

  25. Brian Matiash June 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    +Julie Jamieson Thanks, sweet girl! And you, too, +Sandra Parlow :P

  26. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    +Brian Matiash You put teh oils on your photos? No wonder they's so slick!

  27. Amy Heiden June 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Want to edit my photos +Brian Matiash? :-)

  28. Brian Matiash June 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    +Ben Fullerton HA!

    +Amy Heiden It'd be fun to have a get-together here in PDX to hold a post-processing seminar. Something small and targeted, maybe.

  29. Amy Heiden June 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    Sounds fun. Then we could go explore that place up near Seattle :-)

  30. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Is PDX in Colorado…?

  31. Kelly-Shane Fuller June 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    I'm very much the same, I enjoy the camera and processing equally, but for different reasons. They both have their own flow to them.

  32. Ben Fullerton June 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Kind of like how I like bacon and heroin equally, but for different reasons, right? They both have their own… oh god.

    I'm sorry. I can't manage to say anything serious in this thread any more. I shall take my leave. Gentlemen, Ladies…

  33. Amy Heiden June 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm - Reply


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