Frames and Backgrounds
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Skip Navigation Linksunderwater Photo Course :: (6) Composition :: Frames

Frames and Backgrounds

U/W Photo Course

Learn u/w photography the easy way!

Fill the Frame

Size does matter! It is another way of emphasizing your subject. Perhaps the most common fault, after placing the subject slap-bang in the middle, is having the subject too small in the frame.

Whatever you do, every scene should have a definite subject. The trouble is that our brains are imaginative (and our cameras are not). I see so many photographers shooting a twelve-inch fish six feet away. Their brains are filled with that fish but their frames aren't. They are very disappointed when (viewing the results) they find the fish seems so small.

Problems to avoid Your mind plays tricks on you when you see a subject. It zooms in on the subject. Unfortunately, your lens does not mimic this behavior unless you make it!

One of the best bits of advice beginners can take on board is, once they have set up their shot to their satisfaction, to fin closer before pressing that shutterThe shutter is an integral part of all cameras. It opens to allow light through. The greater the range of shutter speeds a camera has the better.. So many shots lack impact because the subject is too small in the frame.

Busy Backgrounds

Backgrounds are important and must be given consideration. Busy pictures rarely work. The eye searches around the scene trying to latch onto the main point of interest in order to resolve itself. If it doesn't find one the picture won't work.

Selective focussing is one method of isolating your subject from the background, by using a wide apertureThe variable diameter hole used to control the amount of light passing through a lens. to put the background out of focus. Underwater photographers largely neglect this technique as wide-angle lenses have great depth of fieldThe zone in your picture that is in focus..

It is easy to isolate smaller subjects against a black background by using a small aperture and is particularly effective with macroPhotography of smaller subjects shot (between 1:1 and 1:3) on macro settings or with macro equipment and close-up photography. This is sometimes called negative spacea compotional term to describe neutral space used to isolate and emphasise the subject.

Frame Within A Frame

geat advice! One way to escape from the 'prison' of your frame format is to create another frame inside it. The most obvious example of this is the shot out of a cave mouth. Selective lighting can also create frames. The frame doesn't need to be complete, just softening one edge can be an improvement.


Immediate impact is a quality so important to competition photography. Like most things to do with composition, impact is a quantity of a subjective nature. What may seem astounding to the man in the street (whoever he is!) can be old hat to a bunch of divers who have seen it all before.

Impact has little to do with your subject, something as humble as a piece of weed can be presented in a dynamic way. Through composition we can make the commonplace subject worth a second look.


Repetition of subjects, diminishing in size also helps, as does the inclusion of foreground detail. The illusion of depth can also be given by progressively weaker tones receding from foreground to background.

Color Contrast

You can also accentuate subjects by reducing scenes to areas of contrastthe difference in desity between parts of an image. High contrast for example denotes larger differences with blacker blacks and whiter whites. or color, not just shapes. Reds and yellows lift a subject from its backdrop. Making a feature of the sun gives any shot impact.

Next >> Negative Space