I think I recall being told by an experienced, old, broadcast television engineer that humans perceive colour differently, depending on the colour of the frame surrounding a video display. He claimed that for accurate colour representation, you had to make different corrections; depending on whether the monitor’s frame, around the displayed video image, was black or white. I found that a little bit astonishing, but apparently the frame around the image affects the colorimetry, or more simply, your colour perception. I’m not sure if this is correct or not and I couldn’t find a reference to prove it one way or the other, on the Internet, but it was an idea that stayed with me for many years.
Whenever I paint, I am aware that contrasts tend to intensify colours, compared to using the same colour, all by itself. Put a bright red all over a canvas and it looks pretty bright, but frame it with bright blue and you will see a very different red. The contrast makes it seem more intense. It also makes the blue frame seem brighter, too.
I wonder how many other things change, depending on how you reframe them. Picture framers know that the same painting can look very different in a wide, ornate, gilt frame, compared to a functional, plain, minimalist, aluminium frame, for example. Selection of the frame can have a dramatic effect on how people respond to your painting. This even works when you place a picture of a frame around a photograph of your painting. Isn’t that strange?
When an artist, photographer or cinematographer composes an image, trying for a particular balance or symmetry in the visual work, they are really adjusting what would be equivalent to crop and zoom, in an image manipulation application such as Photoshop, but in real life, instead of in the computer. Take any image and crop it, zoom it and slide it within a frame. Reframing the image can make a very big difference to how it is received and liked.
You can reframe in music production, too. If you have a song under production in your DAW, replace the drum tracks with a random drum loop of the same beats per minute and see what happens. You might even want to snap the rest of the tracks to the groove of the new loop. Similarly, you can take a MIDI part that you have played-in and recorded, or programmed by hand and simply change the virtual instrument hooked to the part. Change the preset. Replace a pad with a lead. You get amazing results.
What about changing the mix? If the song is very guitar-heavy, mix the guitars way down and bring up the synth tracks or the backing vocals, to fill the sonic space where the guitars used to dominate. There is no limit to musical reframing. Change the tempo, or the key. Swap the major chords for minor chords. It’s interesting to see what kinds of new directions reframing experiments like this can take you in, if you are willing to explore.
Listen to these two versions of the well known song “Layla”. Same artist. Same song. Very different interpretations and very different emotional impact.
How about these two versions of the song “Mad World”? Here is the original, by Tears for Fears
Now listen to the same song, but reframed by Gary Jules. Which do you prefer? Why?
Both of these songs have been radically reframed and the effect is lovely.
When I worked for a video editing software vendor, we learned a lot about how sitcoms were made. They used a technique called “multicam editing”. In this technique, the screenplay was acted out, before a live audience, twice. During both performances, there were multiple cameras running the whole time, synchronised by time code (hence the name “multicam”). Sometimes the shots taken were close ups, sometimes wide shots of the ensemble cast and sometimes they grabbed “two-shots”, when two of the characters were talking to each other.
The point of shooting this way was that the spontaneity of the actors’ performances was preserved, but the editor had lots of footage to work with, allowing him to reframe each scene or line of dialogue, using different camera angles, selecting the best takes from both performances, if necessary, to tell the story more effectively, during programme editing. You could take the audible audience appreciation from one performance and mix it in with the reaction captured during the second run through. The possibilities were endless.
These days, cameras are so cheap (but cameramen maybe not significantly cheaper), that it would be conceivable to have two cameras close up on each character in the cast, from different angles, plus a separate camera to cover each possible two shot, each three shot and the entire ensemble, from different angles, the whole time. The amount of choice available to the editor to reframe the shot as he wished could be much broader. I wonder if this will be attempted (or already has been).
If you want to see another application of reframing, take a look at the new(ish) Adobe image recompose tool. Beyond cropping and zooming, the little software tool lets you reframe the image in many interesting ways.
In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), Cognitive Reframing let’s you change your ideas by using other, more positive words to what you would usually use to describe relatively negative things in a more positive way. You do this simply to shift your perspective on matters and hence alter your own reality, so that you can better cope with something that might ordinarily be seen as “bad”. “Failures” are transformed into “lessons learned”, “stress” into “excitement” and “screw-ups” into “opportunities for improvement”. Sounds daft and sort of Pollyanna-ish, but it’s surprising how even the most self-aware cynic can benefit from seeing things differently.
If you don’t believe how powerful your frame of reference is, look at this study, where they presented several telecommuters and several office workers to experienced managers, along with their work products, for evaluation and grading.
The twist was that they randomly told the managers which workers were telecommuters and which were office workers, irrespective of their real job status. The study showed that the work products of telecommuters were more often denigrated and slighted, as were the supposed telecommuters and home workers, than were the efforts of the supposed office workers and the workers designated “office workers” for the purposes of the experiment. Given that they were randomly mixed, it demonstrates strongly how framing the people as home workers distorted the perception of their character and work, even to managers that appeared, on the surface, to be objective, fair and enlightened. Prejudice is a powerful force. Reframing is a powerful antidote.
Learning to reframe things is a powerful, creative technique. Reframe whenever you are stuck for a new idea or need some inspiration. Reframing is experimentation, by another name. Play with your frame of reference. You might find surprising results.