Natalie Gibbs – Virginia Wedding Photographer » Modern documentary-style wedding and family photography for Roanoke, Charlottesville, Blacksburg, and the New River Valley

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I have really enjoyed writing these little photography techniques posts.  I hope they’ve been helpful — or at least interesting — to those of you who are curious about photography.

The process of choosing what to post and which examples to use has really been eye-opening to me.  I’m a believer that although there are 100s of local photographers out there, we’re all pretty different.  I’ve spent some time this winter examining photography websites from the Roanoke and NRV areas, and the one thing I’ve learned is that despite almost all of us describing our styles in similar terms, we do not really shoot the same way.

I like to think that I compose images very intentionally, if quickly, and put a lot of emphasis on the subject’s surroundings as an integral part of the photo.  Every pixel is a part of the story.

My hope is that after putting together these techniques posts, I will become even more deliberate and thoughtful about what I shoot, ensuring that I can capture portraits and emotional documentary moments in an authentic, interesting, and artful way.  I’m sincere in this hope.  I want to create that photos that matter and that are beautiful.

So, onto framing.

Framing is when a photographer quite literally “frames” the subject with another element of the image.  It can be done very simply, using a canopy of trees or a door frame, for example.  Or, it can be more complicated, with elements from both the foreground and the background framing the subject.  For me, framing serves two purposes: (1) it draws your attention to the subject and (2) it helps work in the other elements of the photo.  As a storyteller who isn’t necessarily into altering the natural scene, I’m particularly interested in #2.  I use elements in both the foreground and backgrounds of my images to frame my subjects and also give you, the viewer, some context.  I think you need to know where people are and what’s happening around them to really understand the story of the image.

In my compositions, I use framing in three main ways, as you’ll see below.

Framing with natural elements:

I’m always on the lookout for nice light, but I really love it when the nice light includes a beautiful arch of trees or a few perfect gaps in the branches.



Framing with structural or architectural elements:

When I look at a building, I look for light/dark contrasts and empty spaces where a person might stand to be photographed just so.  Sometimes I open doors or windows to help me.


Framing with people and other parts of the scene:

By far my favorite way to use framing is to frame people with… other people.  As a wedding and documentary family photographer, my subjects are rarely alone, and the people around them are an integral part of their story.  When I can use them as part of the image, it helps give a more complete picture of the moment at hand.  This is a big reason why I almost never ask people to move out of my way at a wedding: they’re often part of the photo and just don’t realize it.


OK, I confess that last one is something of an accident, but it’s a happy one.  That girl’s hair swept by my lens at precisely the right moment and in the most beautiful curve.

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to read some of my other techniques articles.  Try this one on shutter speed and intentional motion blur!


Look at this photo. Now look a bit longer. Do you see it yet?

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It took me a while to notice that this is not, in fact, a photo of Stacey giving Don a loving glance during their Homestead ceremony. Nope. It’s a photo of Don’s mother reaching out and ever-so-quietly adjusting the train on Stacey’s dress.

The best documentary photos have more than one thing going on. They take you on a bit of a journey. I think this one’s a keeper.

If you’d like to see the whole collection, click here!