EYE 4: Dividing the Frame

This article is part of my series on the study of ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ by Micheal Freeman. Note that we skipped EYE 3 and will return to it at a later date.

With this essay we begin discussing the division of the Frame. The subject of the image divides the Frame. The background divides the Frame. All of the elements in the image divide the Frame. So how do we determine where to place objects in the image to divide the Frame in the most pleasing way?

Since the topic of this essay is ‘Dividing the Frame’, then it is only appropriate to answer this question with: divide the Frame, then place the subject in one of those divisions. Sound complicated? There’s more good news – since there are many pleasing ways to divide a Frame, there are multiple ‘right’ answers about placing the subject!

We are going to discuss a number of ways to divide the Frame and place a subject over the next few essays. Each essay will concentrate on one method and then provide some exercises to help us practice that method. The most important guideline to remember here is that the number of ways to perfect this technique are infinite – so be creative, but also be critical of your work. Look for new ways to represent a subject. After all, the point of learning to see with a photographic eye is to learn about being creative.


There are two very common series or progressions in mathematics – Arithmetic and Geometric. In this essay we will discuss the first progression and move to the second one in the next essay.

An Arithmetic progression is linear. This means that each number in the series, when plotted with the difference between each number, forms a straight line. Linear, meaning straight line.

In terms of a Ratio, Arithmetic progressions are a ratio of 1:1. Squares and rectangles of the same size represent linear progressions. In terms of the Frame, dividing a Frame into four equal parts is linear. Dividing a frame into thirds is linear. In fact, dividing a Frame into any number of spaces, each with the same size or area is a linear division.

While simple, there are many more various of division for a Frame than linear divisions. It is these variations that begin to provide a unique way of organizing the placement of a subject within a Frame. Thus, the linear division of a Frame is the simplest to learn and we will start with the linear division. However, division of a Frame only gets more exciting from here.


This exercise is lengthy in order to get your creativity sparked for the next several essays. We will design a few linear divisions and then shoot a variety of subjects within those divisions for later comparison.

Take three sheets of paper (more if you have the time). On each sheet of paper, draw a Frame that is roughly the proportion of your camera medium. For 35mm film users, the ratio is 24mm x 36mm or approximately 1:1.5 (this is where the 3:2 ratio comes from). For digital users, you may typically have available a 3:2 or 4:3 ratio. For this exercise, do not use the wide angle ratio.

After creating the Frame on your sheets of paper, divide each sheet into different linear divisions. Try a variety of the same sized squares or rectangles. After completing these, put them in page protectors or a small notebook to carry with you while you shoot some images.

Find a subject that is simple, without a complicated background. For example, a window on a wall, a birdhouse in a field, a lone tree, the hole in a putting green or some other simple subject.

Next, take a series of images with your camera for each sheet, placing the subject in each of the divisions. For example, if your subject is a hole in a putting green and your first sheet is divided into four squares, then your series of images would be as follows: (1) the hole in the upper left quadrant, (2) the hole in the lower left quadrant, (3) the hole in the upper right quadrant and (4) the hole in the lower right quadrant. Use a single subject for each of your three sheets.

Repeat the process for at least two additional subjects (three in total). Print these images for comparison and make notes on each image about how the placement of the subject affects how you view the image as a whole. For example, how would a birdhouse look in the bottom right corner with sky in the other three quadrants? Contrast that with the birdhouse in the upper left corner and a field in the other three quadrants? Which image would leave you looking for something missing in the image and which one would leave you feeling complete? Does one image make you feel short or tall? Does one image leave you viewing the subject and one image leave you looking around the rest of the Frame?

See if there is a commonality between different subjects of certain areas of your three Frame divisions. If you tend to like one or two positions in that Frame division, color those in with a highlighter or colored pencil.

Place your notes and your images in your notebook with the results from the other exercises. Be sure to view images around you in light of what you discovered from this exercise. When you see billboards, magazine advertisements, shop windows, web pages – everywhere you look, analyze the Frame and where the subject is.

Next we will talk about a special linear ratio called the Golden Ratio.

Printing Tip

Printing this many images for comparison can get expensive with ink and paper. If you are on budgetary constraints, try printing four images on a page leaving borders for your notes. Anything more than four images per 8.5 x 11 inch page would be too small to really analyze. You can also use a magnifying glass when viewing these images to help make them larger.

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