the importance of the edge of the photograph

In his blog today, Mark Graf was wondering “why a completely random leaf pile can be so peaceful” in real life, yet feel chaotic when photographed. I’ve experienced this as well. When I go for a walk, my gaze is constantly moving, absorbing everything around me in continually-shifting contexts. But when I look at that same scene as an artist, my eye immediately seeks out structure and form. I think my mind tries to limit the context of what I am seeing, so that I might begin to draw some meaning from it.

Crown (acorn cap) ©2007 by Daniel Sroka

When I create a photograph, the edge of the photograph imposes a similar artificial (but unavoidable) formality on the subject. Out in the wild, there is no frame, so your mind seeks out it’s own limits. But when a limit is enforced by the borders of a photograph, your mind follows it’s lead. Order begets a desire for more order, a desire for pattern and rhythm that you don’t experience in the wild. I believe that the same thing happens in a painting, a story, or a piece of music. I love playing with this dynamic in my photography. Taking a subject out of the chaos of normal life, and imposing a formal “frame” on it, encouraging you to seek out new patterns and rhythms within it.


Framing is one of the toughest things to teach, especially if it comes naturally to the teacher. It is also one of the strengths of your photographs, Daniel.

Any tips on teaching it will me much appreciated!

Teaching how to frame a subject… hmm, that’d be tough. I don’t really know *how* I do it, it’s just something I have always done. When I was a kid, I had very long bus rides to and from school. I remember staring out the window at the same scene every day, and recomposing what I saw into images and patterns. As the bus would pass by, I’d take mental snapshots of the scenery, or create narratives out of the way toys would be scattered in a lawn. I think my photography grew in part out of these observation skills.

Good thoughts on the formality imposed by a frame Dan. I had never thought of it in exactly those terms, but I think you are very right. There are so many more inputs to our senses in experiencing the ‘real life’ portion of it – and we have to rely on some visual harmonies to make a 2D, visual only input work.

Betty, one tool often used, that I should probably use more myself, is a small piece of cardboard with a window cut out in it. I think it is really meant to force yourself into thinking about the frame as Dan as describing.

Thanks for the link also!

Hi Daniel, I just discovered your blog (through Kesha Bruce’s) –very interesting writing and photos. I often put areas of emphasis along the edges/borders of my paintings (I’m an abstract painter, using a lot of organic textures and nature references) and have wondered why this works–I think you have put it very well. I also use contrasting panels placed side by side for similar reasons, to frame and focus. Thanks for articulating this–