Tunnels & Curves

Tunnels can occur in a couple of ways, as you’ll see below. However, they work best when there are two sides of the image which are darker, tunnelling toward the background. The background does NOT need to be an open area/open sky/field etc – in fact, it could be more forest! But having some kind of “sides” to the image will give us much the same effect as a frame image.


Tunnels can also occur when you position the subject on a very narrow track, meaning you’ll have a tunnel of the foliage either side of them, too.

Layered Tunnels

Simple Tunnels

These are usually a lot more similar to “open” images, however we have the added benefit of some light and dark tones on either side of the image at least, giving us a little more flexibility in editing. By selectively darkening these edges, we can really draw attention to the subject within, without applying a fake vignette.

Many of the images below were taken on a wider path, or a path without foliage. Or, I looked for a space through the trees where they were dense either side of the dog, and had small narrow gaps behind him.


Be on the lookout for curves in nature. These can give us interesting options, as we can pose our dogs to reflect the same shape as the curve, use the curve to direct the dog’s gaze. or, they can accidentally block the gaze or the flow of the image, if rising in the gazing direction. Curves are usually going to also use elements from the other sections (eg., a curved tree-tunk becomes a frame) but it’s worth looking out for them in nature.


Table of Contents

Using frames – either to one or both sides of our image, above, below or all the way around it, can be a great way to draw attention to our dog and keep our viewers in our image by closing off one or more of their “escape” routes, but they also give more depth and layers to the image, can give us more to work with in terms of shaping light, and can act as a source of visual interest too! Do you remember one of our first examples of open vs closed scenes?

The only difference in this image, is the tree trunk! 

Two Frames

These images can be constructed in many different ways!

  • Both frames could be in focus
  • One could be in the close foreground, the other on the same level as the dog
  • Both in the background and blurry, but still dark and solid
  • One dark in the background, the other on the same level as the dog.

Don’t feel like both frames (whatever they happen to be!) must be in focus in order for this element to be effective!

When out location scouting, look for areas of the location where the dog can stand, with two objects a distance apart. It may take your eyes some training to see the perfect distance relative to your lens (as compression varies from focal length to focal length) and even to see how far forward or back the object needs to be before it simply becomes another part of the background. 

If you are confident enough in editing, you can copy the frame from one edge of your image and paste it onto the other side, flipping it horizontally. Just be careful of any distinguishing features (certain light or dark areas in the bark, certain leaf arrangements or flowers) that make it obvious that it’s been copied.

I would recommend that the dog is looking forward into the camera, or only slightly to the side, when there are two frames, or their gaze will feel “blocked”. Looking to the side may be fine if the looking direction’s frame is a blurry part of the background.

This image doesn't "feel" right. Although there is (more or less) a frame behind Journey, there is a huge fat tree trunk blocking his gaze in front. Think about it like when you enter the image, your eye goes to the dog, it follows his gaze, bounces off the tree, and is hurtled outward over Journey's head.

One Frame

These locations are much easier to find, as we only need one object to act as our frame. These can work great as looking-forward images, or images looking to the side, since the dog will have plenty of space to look into. 

While the majority (all?) of the photos below use tree-trunks as a frame, your frame could be anything.  Bushes, branches, a wall, a cliff, rocks, a log. These tend to work best if they fill the entire side of the frame – if you see the photo of the black sheltie lying down below, this isn’t such a “frame” as an area of visual interest.

Overhead Frame

These are tricky to find! We need something overhead which is low enough to be in the frame of the photo without cutting off the dog’s feet. It can be one side of the image (eg., arching overhead – in which case it MAY make more sense for your dog to be looking in that direction too) or it can be both sides. Again, these don’t have to be branches, but anything which creates a frame overhead to stop your viewer from leaving the image.

Even more difficult! These work best when shooting through some leaves or branches, to get that blurred foreground effect in front of the dog. For these, you need a location with enough “stuff” in front, but which doesn’t obstruct or go over the dog’s face or eyes especially.

Some of the examples below are “almost”! They’re not quite totally surrounded on all 4 sides, but pretty close, or there’s a lower & upper frame element at least. Obviously lots of head/shoulder photos here as it’s easier to get the lower frame in!

Preparing the Scene

So. You’ve found the perfect background, the perfect foreground, you’ve got some visual interest and you’re ready to go. What now?

Prepare the scene!

Having a lot of sticks, branches, leaves and other small, fine, detailed objects can be very distracting. When you are getting ready to use your location, ask yourself if there is too much going on in the scene. If so, how can you manage it?

Maybe some grasses are fine, but some will be covering the dog, or spiking up at one corner of the frame. 

Maybe you want to use a branch as an overhead frame, but then notice there is another one jutting out of the dog’s neck.

Maybe your moss is strewn with thousands of tiny sticks (one of my favourite locations is exactly like this and it drives me crazy).

Always be checking: is there a way you can simplify the scene? Ideally we want: background, mid-ground/visual interest – purposeful and something that will work with our mood/story/subject/location. See the Visual Interest lesson for more!, and a soft foreground. 

What we don’t want, are a ton of additional “things” in the scene which have nothing to do with the image we’re creating.

Be especially conscious of: very straight vertical stalks, very detailed bushes with lots of needles, sticks sticking out of the dog anywhere, lying down/chin down photos with a lot of little leaves or twigs, busy grasses. The more detail there is, the more our eye will be drawn.

Therefore, clean up sticks, some leaves, grasses etc as necessary. This is not to say you need to completely clear your area of all foliage. It is to say that you need to be conscious about what elements you are purposefully including in the photo and whether they contribute to, or take away from, the overall image. Of course you can edit some things later, but it will save you a lot of work and heartache if you do it in location, when possible.