Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Thinking, seeing, in aspect ratios

Just looking at the pictures for the last two posts, I started thinking about how I visualise aspect ratio [AR] (if indeed I do). The "Cycle tunnel" shot is from the SLR, aspect ratio 6:4 (3:2), "Atop Alpe d'Huez" is from the digicam, AR 5.33:4 (4:3). Neither ratio is quite perfect - 6:4 looks a bit long (landscape too wide) - a bit less rock on the right would be better; 5:4 a bit short (landscape too tall) - light cropping from the bottom, maybe a sliver off the right.

So what is "ideal", how do I view AR and what about square images and wide panoramas?

One thing I have learnt about my own way of seeing is that I almost always think in terms of width of framing, even for portrait subjects. I then aim to capture everything I want in height through position or focal length. Taken to extremes, when I visualise a square image, I hold the camera in portrait orientation so the camera naturally frames the width I want. For panoramics, I always look for the extreme parts I want to capture to left and right, then selecting focal length to capture the height I want - number of shots falls out naturally from there.

What about "normal" shots - single frame, no cropping. In the past I thought I liked a slightly wide landscape AR (say 16:9) and for portrait a slightly short AR (say 5:4). Now I'm not so sure. The wide landscape AR comes from my view of the "grand scenic" - mountains and the like - which I often view in a panoramic kind of way. Not really indicative of the majority of landscape orientation shots. I often find myself cropping the long side of shots from the SLR - not quiet from 6:4 to 5:4.

SO that leads to the final point, and the first question: what's ideal? For me, I think something between 5:4 and 6:4. I might experiment, but 2 obvious candidates are 5.5:4 (round the difference) and 5.66:4 (1.41:1, format of A-size paper, and about the average). This won't be a universal truth of course, but might inform my general framing & cropping. What about Golden Ratio (6.472:4, 1.618:1) - seems so wide it's never considered in general photography.

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