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Sunday, 29 January 2012


I'm amazed at how few comments on Kirk's post address or take the position that the subject content usually should detemine the best format. Or that changing format can totally change the meaning and impact of an image. If you doubt this, take a few images into Photoshop, and crop them in a variety of ways. Don't worry about ratios, just crop to get in interesting image. You may be surprised at the results.

There are damn few pictures which can't be improved by a little judicious cropping.

I'm with you, Mike. After shooting 2 photos in 1:1 format with the copy of Mattebox I bought yesterday after reading about it on TOP (true) right after reading Kirk's article about square format (true), I went back to something normal.

Bit of fiendish marketing, that ;-)

- Tim

I think my eyesight has a lot to do with my format preferences. I'm mono-ocular--I primarily use my left eye, the right is just for peripheral vision. I believe--though having always been this way, I can't prove it--that not having the extension of the visual field over to my right eye, makes long rectangle landscape just unnatural for me. About 80% of my shots are in portrait mode, and I tend to like 4:3 or 5:7 more than 2:3.

Of course one of you bi-ocular folks could tell me it doesn't work that way and my hypothesis goes down the drain. :-)

I've read a lot of the comments and it certainly seems as if people have quite strong personal preferences for one aspect ratio rather than another.
And I am quite prepared to understand that these same photographers are so comfortable with their choice that they they feel this is how they "see" photographically.
But a point that is raised less often is whether this isn't really putting the cart before the horse. Isn't it a better approach to see a subject and let form(at) follow function? Sometimes what catches one's eye is long and thin and othertimes not so. A less committed approach to aspect ratios may produce stronger images. Format flexible digital cameras are an asset here.
Kirk has a very individual style of portrait photography and I well understand that the square format suits that very well. But I think that if it hadn't then he is sufficiently perceptive to have changed the format rather than trying to force his style preference into an aspect ratio which was unsuitable.
So a plea for a more individually flexible approach to this.

Not mentioned so far is that Leica enthusiasts get a rectangle in the viewfinder that shows them the film aspect ratio, but also allows them to see things outside the rectangle while still looking through the viewfinder. That's often touted as one of the major advantages of rangefinder cameras. Since some m4/3 cameras -- the GH2 -- use different crops of the sensor to provide different aspect ratios, I wonder if it would be possible to come up with a viewfinder that would show the entire sensor, and then electronically project various grids on it to show you the possible crops. SLRs used to have interchangeable prisms, some of which had grids, that would give you the same effect -- you could compose inside the grid, planning to crop to whatever aspect ratio you were looking at, while still seeing around the edges of the crop.

Nowadays I only shoot 35mm... and only supply images to stock libraries. However, for the past couple of years it turns out nearly all my images exported from LightRoom to final work in PhotoShop have been auto-cropped to 4:3 because 1) doing that just crops the iffy corners of my three rather old manual Nikkor lenses, 2) the subject generally looks more contained in the resulting slightly less-wide framing, and 3) the 4:3 ratio thumbnails appear visibly larger than regular 35mm format ones on the Alamy search/results pages and hopefully stand-out slightly from a mass of similars from other photographers.

Zensorial is a body of work I produced 2 years ago. It was mainly conformed with squares pictures. I used a 5D2 and cropped in-camera with my eyes while holding the camera horizontally. It was so comfortable to shoot the entire day holding the camera in this same position.That was when the idea of the camera staying always in the up-right position started to get clear. Suffice to say, I love squares pictures. Here is one sample of the exhibit: http://forum.getdpi.com/forum/attachments/canon/24194d1256695639-zensorial-prominencia-solaz.jpg

Glad you are feeling better....
I am one of those people that can compose to any shape, but I have to see it through the viewfinder. In other words, I always have a tough time composing without the aid of the viewfinder crop, but within that crop I am fine...

Personally, aspect ratio preference seems like a chicken-and-egg thing- I'm not entirely sure if I find certain aspect ratios more natural simply because I've shot more often with them, or whether some of my preferences are innate in me to start with.

I learned the ropes of digital on an Olympus E-520; right from the get-go, the 4/3 aspect ratio felt very natural to me. When I ventured back into some film work, however, the skinnier 3:2 aspect ratio felt strange for a while, then I got used to it again. Square has consistently been the least comfortable aspect ratio for me, except in still lifes and close-in portraits (neither of which I do often).

Perhaps all this simply suggests an aversion to cropping!

This isn't the same thing, exactly, but lately I have been using a cropping feature in picasa that allows you to crop rectangular images from a dslr camera using preset aspect ratios, including the square. I try to use the entire rectangular frame of my dslr camera when composing a picture, a habit begun with small format, and other, film cameras; still, I have enjoyed viewing my pictures in different ways--4:3, 2:3, 1:1--during post-processing stage. It helps visualization.


consider yourself lucky in a 2D world where aspect ratio is a choice between several standards. In radar imagery (also LIDAR) we get a third dimension to play with at mission programming time. You can agree the X,Y coordinates of an area of interest (whether military or scientific), and then you get to have a whole new set of decisions (or arguments, if doing it as part of a workgroup) about how much detail you want on which part of the Z axis. The reason this is important? By trading off one of the axes, you can divert collecting capability to another axis. It's like cropping but being able to re-invest the unwanted resolution to double up elsewhere in the picture.

One day, I am going to become extraordinarily rich by being able to convert dynamic thinking on these trade-offs into a software programme that every radar manufacturer will want to buy. I'll get Ben Syverson to write the app, as I loved his Mattebox. One day......

At one point in my life, I did a lot of shooting with TLRs. Like you, I drew lines on the viewfinder to represent the shape of 11x14 paper.

I don't know whether it ever occurred to me to just let it be square.

Richard Newman: I disagree; subject alone dictates nothing that won't change with a different viewpoint. (Witness the rash of LF landscapies who shoot portrait-orientation, for starters.)

Hey, I have a shot taken either of or from the dock in that picture! (Unsurprisingly, mine isn't as good.)

Letting the camera decide the aspect ratio seems to miss the point. The image should dictate the format. Crop as close as you can with the viewfinder but don't leave out anything vital to the image and then crop to any size or shape that suits the image in the post processing. When I uses to shoot slides, I would sometimes mask the slide with black tape to achieve a crop.
Leland Davis

The biggest influence you had on my photography, Michael, was a couple of years ago in a post where, in passing, you mentioned how well panoramic crops were working for you. I decided to try it on a couple of my more recent images and, wow, it just clicked right away.

I now crop as the subject requires, but the vast majority of my images are 16:9 or even 2:1, with the occasional square and 3:2 every now and then. It's just the way I see.

There's only one good time to use the square format...when shooting an album cover.

When I shot film I never really liked the Leica 2:3 format. It was either too wide or not wide enough, depending on subject. When I tried square I could not warm to it either. And when digital came along I thought I would love 16:9 (on micro four thirds, since you can choose the aspect ratio on some cameras) since I was attracted to a more panoramic perspective earlier when I used 2:3. To my surprise I immediately loved the normal 4/3 aspect ratio. I find composition natural with it. I now really like it and have almost forgotten to think about aspect ratios. So here goes - sometimes you get surprised at yourself. And everyone seems to have their own preferred ratio.

In a wider context: I used to think of composition as the art of fitting things into the frame you happen to have. And that's part of what's going on. But one should actually feel free to adapt aspect ratios on the fly to the subject. I am now much more open to crop to unusual aspect ratios (though not to round - yet!). I think way too few people even think of this option - to make each image different in shape, adapted to what actually belongs in the frame.

@John Camp - some cameras do give you crop lines - in video, at least. My D7000 shades, but does not completely block, the portions of the screen not used for video recording in Live View. Would be a fantastic addition for mirrorless cameras, and really fun for an X100. I have a weakness in not being able to set a camera to record less than every wee little pixel it can use, but having such a feature and a hardware switch for aspect ratio a la panasonic would make for a compelling use case.

"Of course, what Kirk is saying is, there was an aspect ratio that was right for him...so, by extension, there might be one for you, too; and, these days, some cameras let you choose."

For me, I think something fairly wide (16:9 or more) when landscape suits me, but when vertical, it HAS to be more square... at least 4:3.

If only the camera could change automatically as I rotate it.

It occurs to me that masking the LCD on the back of a camera where that was your primary viewfinder would probable interfere with using the menus, which usually share that display. Maybe if you just drew lines (maybe on a transparent overlay), so you could still see the menu but had the aid to composition.

Most images for magazine use are cropped from 3:2 (which was only a standard for convenience reasons anyway) to 4:3 or thereabouts. I think one of the great missed opportunities of the change from film to digital was not changing the format at the same time. Too late to change now I suspect.

What amazed me even more was when Leica came out with their almost medium format S2 system they burdened it with 3:2. Crazy.

Actually, I don't think we really disagree. Of course changing aspect ratio can change the meaning/content/interpretation of an image. That's why I suggested the exercise of doing various AR crops in Pshop. What I don't agree with is that one AR is right and proper for all images. To me doing that is like wearing blinders which limit one's vision to a narrow tunnel.

I like the idea put forward by John Camp. A variant would be to always have the entire sensor recording the image, regardless of the format displayed in the viewfinder. In postprocessing only the part previously displayed in the viewfinder would show up by default, but one might switch to a different proportion if needed.

Having spent a day shooting in 1:1, I found the major advantage was that it made me look at familiar scenes in a new way, looking for different balance in the composition than normal. The portrait pictures were interesting too - the framing feels really good for tight face compositions.
Will I use 1:1 exclusively? No, but I will throw it into the mix of B/W / Exposure / aperture / WB as a way of thinking about a possible result. Thanks for the prompt!

As a long time silver print maker, I've never hesitated to crop to suit the composition, but also the standard paper sizes. Anything more than 1/4" border and I hesitated as if I was wasting cash.

The square format has always been special to me and I make much stronger images than I do with 3:2 which I frequently crop square. Uncropped 3:2 in the vertical, portrait mode always cause my subjects to be cramped.

I'm in the middle of uploading a personal project on the closure of a Royal hospital:

Where I've maintained square crops from the square negs throughout. Perhaps, this does result in repetitive compositions, as mentioned on Kirk's thread, but I'll live with that for the sake of consistancy of presentation. I find shooting on a ground glass so much more rewarding than through a viewfinder and I suspect I'd be just as happy using an RB67 as I am shooting Hasselblad and Rolleiflex. Very disappointed that 645 has become the only alternative to 3:2 in the digital mainstream. Cheers.

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