The Art Of Elimination

As visual communicators, we’re responsible for everything that’s in the frame; we’re also responsible for everything that’s not in the frame. Deciding what’s in the frame and what’s out is a critical decision that can make or break an image. Here are two essential framing strategies.

1. Use the frame to eliminate distracting information around a subject. Take extra care with image information that touches the frame, as it will draw extra attention. Do this with significant compositional elements.

2) Second exposure

2. Eliminate excess space around a subject to focus the attention of the viewer. A lot of space between the subject and the frame can be used to call on psychological associations with space, such as freedom or isolation. Some space between the subject and the frame can give the appearance of the subject resting gracefully within the frame. Touching the subject with the frame strongly focuses the attention of the viewer and may seem claustrophobic. Cropping the subject with the frame can focus the attention of the viewer on specific aspects of the subject and/or give an image a tense quality, evoking evasion and incompleteness—this often seems accidental if less than half the subject is revealed.

3) Two exposures merged, resulting in irregular frame

There’s more than one way to apply these strategies. While cropping techniques are simple to practice, the reasons for their application and the choices made about how to apply them, as well as the final effects, may be exceptionally complex. You have two choices: 1) reposition the frame before exposure; and 2) contract the position of one or more of the borders of an image after exposure, generally with software.

Retouching used to be complex; today it can be simple. Never before has retouching been so easy to do or the results so sophisticated. To be certain, not all retouching is simple. You can make retouching as easy or as complex as you choose to make it. Retouching is an art that continues to be elevated on a daily basis. But what once required specialized tools and a Herculean effort can now be done with standard software in seconds. You have several choices.

Cloning. Simply use the Clone Stamp tool set to Current and Below on a new blank layer. This will ensure that any retouching can be removed or redone at a later date. Hold the Option/Alt key and click to sample information to copy, then move the cursor to the area you’d like to copy the information to, and click and drag. Repeat until a desired effect is achieved. Typically, donor information is drawn from the same document, but you also can clone from one image or file to another.

4) Frame cropped to rectangular shape

Healing: Use the Healing Brush tool as you would the Clone Stamp tool. Or, use the Spot Healing brush, which will automatically select the information sampled for you and can be used within a selection to contain the results. Or, finally, use the Patch tool, which will copy information selected with it from or to (depending on whether you check Source or Destination) wherever you drag it to. Healing can’t be done on a transparent layer, so work on a copy of the layer you’d like to retouch. Click on the layer and select Duplicate Layer from the Layer menu or palette. If you need to heal image material contained on multiple layers, create a new composite layer by holding the Option/Alt key and select Merge Visible from the Layer palette.

Copying And Pasting: Just select a region of an image with any selection tool. Copy it (Edit > Copy). Paste it (Edit > Paste). Then move the resulting layer into play and mask as needed. (Click the mask icon at the bottom of the Layer palette and use a black brush at varying opacities to hide the information.)

Filling: Select a region. Fill using the Content Aware tool. Fill and select Content Aware from the drop-down menu in the dialog (this feature was introduced with Photoshop CS5). Photoshop will automatically create an appropriate random texture in the selected area. Like healing, this feature won’t work on transparent layers/areas so, again, use it on a new merged layer.

Final) Gaps filled in

Software routines such as lens correction and panoramic stitching may distort the frame, subtly, but sometimes significantly, distorting a composition and requiring additional measures to restore a rectangular frame. When solving this challenge, you may get better results if you don’t contract the frame as aggressively as you once did and retouch rather than crop to fill in the gap and/or eliminate distracting elements.

Your choice of practices or their application may or may not change the nature of the artifact that you finally create. And, whether the means you choose is appropriate for your objective, the practices you adopt may or may not be accepted by the community of artists you choose to work within—some are more permissive than others. Nevertheless, you should explore your options. You simply won’t know whether it’s for you until you try it for yourself.

Learning to think within the frame is an essential skill for creating strong photographic compositions. But today, learning to think within the frame is only the beginning. You can learn to think outside the frame as well. It’s a new mind-set. Once it becomes second nature, you’ll not only find you have more options for visual problem-solving, but you’ll also find your visual horizons will have expanded—significantly.

Learn to see in new ways. Combine them with old ways. You’ll find yourself making images that you once passed by, leaving them unmade or even unnoticed. As a result, you’ll make many more successful images.

John Paul Caponigro, author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class and the DVD series R/Evolution, is an internationally renowned fine artist, an authority on digital printing, and a respected lecturer and workshop leader. Get over 200 Lessons and his enews Insights free at,

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