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Formats, compositions, and technical stuff

dudler

Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Formats, compositions, and technical stuff

1 Jul 2020 11:24AM   Views : 299 Unique : 173

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Thanks to Malc for the idea of writing about formats: there’s a bit of standard compositional stuff to say, and there may be one or two bits about cameras, as well… Most of us, most of the time, fit our subjects into the frame that our cameras provide. We tend to accept that it’s the right thing to do – and it’s certainly the convenient way to work.

There have been a few cameras, over the years, that allow different formats: some roll film cameras allow you to insert masking frames to get smaller images, and those with interchangeable backs often offer different formats.

It’s much more unusual for miniature cameras to have variable formats, but the Hasselblad X-Pan (made by Fujifilm) does. As well as offering a panoramic format (20 or 21 frames on a 36-exposure film) it can move both the edges of the frame and the film to give conventional 24x36 images as well as 24x68. The mechanism is clearly rather complex, but they’re lovely bits of kit.

Panoramic images require a bit more from the photographer. A widescreen format looks very bare with only a standard ‘thirds’ composition to occupy it. Good panoramic images need more centres of interest in the frame, and they need to be laid out so that the eye moves naturally from one to the next across the frame, reading a story as it goes. For my money, Colin Prior is the doyen of the format.

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Square format cameras are popular in some film formats – as it’s hard to turn a twin lens reflex on its side, a square format and cropping in printing was popular for many years. TLRs are simple and robust, and were the mainstay of professional photography for many years.

Printing the whole of a square negative delivers something rather special in terms of composition. While rectangular formats lean towards being active, dynamic and involving, a square composition is often either boring or stable, or possibly regal and imposing. Good photographers play to this by the way they compose within the frame, and it’s popular for formal portraits and some architectural subjects – but the choice is yours, always.

Whatever the camera’s format, though, it is always possible for you to previsualise an image, and to take it with the specific intention of cropping to achieve what you wanted. In the darkroom, despite standard paper sizes, it’s perfectly possible to use only part of each sheet…

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I’ve consciously referred to film and film cameras above, but all of the above maps onto digital working, though the enormous computing power of every camera these days makes it feasible to produce WYSIWYG viewfinders, ready-cropped to any format. Similarly, it allows panoramic modes, where you pan the camera across a scene and the CPU stitches the images into a very long and narrow image.
So a suggestion for today – consider what format will suit the picture you’re going to take best. Experiment with different formats, and see what works for you…

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Comments


Howard2 4 3 4 United Kingdom
1 Jul 2020 11:45AM
Is not the format of an image determined by the subject and not the camera or film? All you have said is correct - but whether film or digital, the way the subject is looking at you when you press the shutter will ultimately decide the format of the image. Only recently have I started cropping images from the original format, to square because the subject needs it that way.

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mrswoolybill Plus
13 2.2k 2247 United Kingdom
1 Jul 2020 11:58AM
I agree with Howard that it's about letting the subject dictate the format. Though the right choice might not be immediately obvious... I'm including the choice between landscape and portrait in this.
A lot of people will use portrait for a vertical subject, say a tower or a standing figure, but the result can look cramped and unstable, like a pencil balanced on its end in a tin, and in danger of toppling over. Verticals need horizontals for balance...
It's also about the way that you want the viewer to explore the image. Landscape directs the eye to explore horizontally, left to right. If for example you want the viewer to follow from foreground to horizon to sky, landscape can work against that, dilute the effect. Portrait will have that effect, leading the eye to explore from the foreground upwards.
Equally a straightforward 3x2 landscape is generally favoured for street photography because it keeps the eye exploring horizontally, along the street, the level where human activity is.
One reason why I very often compose specifically for a square crop is that it leaves the eye free to bounce around undirected.
pablophotographer 9 1.6k 380
1 Jul 2020 12:57PM
This is my way, my rule, my gospel: 3F or Framing Follows Form (of the subject). I have said it many times, mostly in the Critique Gallery. More often than the phrase the frame is the temple of your suject. Multiple choice of aspect ratios (4) was a decisive reason for picking a specific digital camera when I decided to join the 21st century imaging.
saltireblue Plus
10 10.9k 63 Norway
1 Jul 2020 2:23PM
What interests me is the way in which one and the same image can completely change character 'merely' by changing the format - a square crop from a 3x2 or 5x4 format can constrain the subject in a way the original frame didn't. In the same way letterbox format can enhance a seascape, for example, by emphasizing the positioning of the horizon.
It would be an interesting exercise, instead of going out with just one lens, or shooting on only f/8 for a day, to choose a format then go out with the camera of your choice to capture only images that fit that format. No post cropping or format altering allowed! John could take his square format camera, for example.
dudler Plus
17 1.2k 1679 England
1 Jul 2020 3:06PM
Thanks all - and especially to Moira and Malc for expanding the discussion!

And Howard's right, echoed by Pablo - the subject should decide the format, not the camera. But sometimes (as Malc suggests), different crops give different feelings and meaning to an image...
pablophotographer 9 1.6k 380
1 Jul 2020 3:18PM

Quote:Thanks all - and especially to Moira and Malc for expanding the discussion!

And Howard's right, echoed by Pablo - the subject should decide the format, not the camera. But sometimes (as Malc suggests), different crops give different feelings and meaning to an image...



..once they find which is the "real" subject iwithn their frame that is. Take for example the latest image of the Critique Gallery "Road to Scotland". Everyone included the whole sky.... without realising that the clouds on the highest part of the image could or "should" be omitted so the road is the clear subject and the protagonist of the frame. Plus that panoramic crop with only some of the bottom clouds just looks better proportionally.

pablophotographer
mrswoolybill Plus
13 2.2k 2247 United Kingdom
1 Jul 2020 5:12PM

Quote:What interests me is the way in which one and the same image can completely change character 'merely' by changing the format - a square crop from a 3x2 or 5x4 format can constrain the subject in a way the original frame didn't. In the same way letterbox format can enhance a seascape, for example, by emphasizing the positioning of the horizon.

I often recommend Michael Freeman's wonderful book The Photographer's Eye. It includes a fascinating exercise where he takes a broad view, of a figure in a paddy field, and produces from it nine totally different crops in a variety of formats, each creating a different mood and balance. There's no hard and fast rule, just an infinite number of possible ways of seeing.
Howard2 4 3 4 United Kingdom
1 Jul 2020 6:01PM
that's odd - a paddy field usually only has one crop - rice. I guess the formats could be fried rice, egg rice, rice non-veg. ....
pablophotographer 9 1.6k 380
1 Jul 2020 9:58PM
..and don't forget the rice noodles! I am saving the 6x6 film for grand weddings and landscapes, lol.
GeorgeP Plus
13 59 25 United States
2 Jul 2020 12:16AM
The fact that most (?) images are viewed on a computer screen these days - and a large majority of those screens (especially laptops) favor a 16x9 format, has me consciously framing my images knowing that they will be cropped to 16x9 before they are posted. And to add insult to injury I throw away many of the pixels that the sensor (or scan) captured. Sometimes, I wonder if I am missing something.SmileSmile

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