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Saturday, 28 January 2012


You know that thing people do in photo editors, where they "straighten" an image by drawling a line, then crop by moving other lines or corners around at will. Cameras need an interface that lets you do that in the viewfinder (or LCD) freely, without regard to aspect ratios.

Maybe that guy who wrote the iPhone app to behave like a camera could look into it.

Kirk Tuck said: "Do you know of any painters using long or tall canvasses who, when entirely finished with a painting, chop off the parts they don't like?"

Yes, kind of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Watch_%28painting%29#Alterations_to_original

I'm a big fan of square, but I expect it is an oddball, if such a perfect shape can be an oddball.

That is, I don't know that square was mainstream until the waist-level reversed-image TLRs demanded it, since there was no good way to lay the camera on the long vs short axis...

Many medium format photographers later came to prefer oblong formats- not just for matching with printing paper sizes, but because they felt 'constrained' by the 'boring' square.

Although the square is a more efficient user of the entire image, I don't believe the 4/3 cameras actually utilize more of the image area. Rather, I think they use LESS, cutting off from their native rectangular shape.

Finally, the most efficient image shape of course is the circle, since that's how your circular lens resolves images. Note that the original Kodak of the 1880s delivered output exactly in the circular format.

Which raises the question: What cameras today can deliver the ethereal beauty of the circular format?

"Note that the original Kodak of the 1880s delivered output exactly in the circular format. Which raises the question: What cameras today can deliver the ethereal beauty of the circular format?"

We just discussed this, not three weeks ago:



Another related personal preference that keeps cropping up in the comments (pun intended) is whether to crop after shooting the picture to get your, and the subject's, ideal aspect ratio; or to compose with a given aspect ratio in camera and not crop later. I don't like to crop because it opens up a can of worms for me as far as choices to obsess over and I like the discipline of composing when I shoot. I move my feet, the angle of the camera, I choose which prime lens to use -- all with the idea that I'm trying to achieve something at the moment and not leaving it until later. Like I said, a personal preference.

I dislike having the choice of aspect ratios.

I recently got a LX-5 which has the option of easily picking among 4 aspect ratios. Now I switch between them willy-nilly. It's like having a zoom lens for aspect ratio. Freeing, but it doesn't force me to make my aspect ratio work. That's why I like fixed focal lenses, you have a lens, it's always too tight, or too loose by just a little, and maybe a lot, but you figure out how to make it work. The end result isn't always what you would've planned, but that improvisation can add a dynamic layer to an image.

I've been trying to work with the 1:1 option on it, and I love 1:1 in that I hate it, but I can see differently when you using it. My problem with using it is that I can turn it to 3:2 easily, my preferred ratio, and I'm not forced to go find a completely different camera. Give me a camera with 1:1, and no other choice.

Amazing! Based on the responses so far, fewer than 5% of us say the subject dictates the aspect ratio of the picture not the camera.
I have never felt constrained by the aspect ratios of film,paper or sensors. In fact, I prefer zooms to ensure I get the subject in the frame. Then I crop to what I like for composition. But, I have always known I am weird...

Great article Kirk,Thank You. I feel your pain,I have always felt that the subject should lead us to the crop. But the truth is I am often pulled to find subjects that fit whatever format I have in my hand at that minute. Sometimes I have to slap myself in the back of the head, shoot the picture knowing that I will later have to crop. I like to fill the frame ,I cannot help it.

Do or use whatever works let someone else worry about the theory.


Kirk, I just loved the picture of the woman in black. Made me want to know all about her. That is a good test of a portrait.

And I really like square, having used a Rolliflex and Hassleblad many years back. Thanks for reminding me to go and re-experiment again.

During my last camera purchase I had the luxury of choosing formats and since it's wet plate, cropping after the fact is not an option I have. Since 4x5 is too small for final output I chose the 5x7, whole plate and 7x7 inserts. I've had the camera for a year now and have just prepared the square glass sheets. Maybe next year I'll get around to shooting them but currently I'm too in love with the whole plate to think about squares.

Since there's been some discussion of RAW and non-native aspects, I'd like to add that in the case of the Panasonic G3, the ratio used in shooting is reflected in the RAW file.

It's yet another thing to like about this wonderful and perhaps somewhat underappreciated camera.

I personally don't find a lot of resonance with a square composition. I'll crop in post to a square if I find that it makes a stronger image, but I just don't quite see that way.

I do prefer 3:2 for landscapes. Always have. But at the same time, I recognize it as a strange contrivance that Oskar Barnack is responsible for—he wanted to use Edison 35mm film for his landscape camera; the standard format on that film was 4 sprockets, which produced a 4:3 image. This small format didn't hold up well to enlargement for still content with the film emulsions of the time. Solution? Double from 4 sprockets to 8. Interestingly, the Olympus Pen F was half-frame, which is just Oskar Barnack's 8 sprockets reduced to 4, and that same format is to this day the standard usage of 35mm film in cinematography.

I find that 3:2 really doesn't work that well for printing. And I cannot abide these wide formats for vertical shots. Whenever I shoot a vertical shot, I have to switch the camera back to 4:3. The world might be long and skinny in a horizontal dimension, but not so vertically. At least the way I see it.

And you know what? I find 4:3 to be a good compromise. And if I know i'm shooting for print, I shoot 4:3. It just works better for printing. And aside from that, I can make great shots in 4:3. Most of my great shots are 4:3, in fact (though I really attribute that to how long I was shooting on my E-520) But then, I usually find that I compose for the frame—regardless of what the frame is—rather than cropping later on. Whether my camera is 16:9 or 3:2 or 4:3, I'll find the best composition.

One day I'll try just shooting squares, and seeing what that gets me. Lord knows the GH2 makes it easy.

While there are lots of inputs to the decisions about aspect ratios, some of them are external.

If you're shooting fine art, then you control the whole process. Ditto if you're shooting snapshots. You can do what you want, and any potential audience basically gets to decide "yes" or "no" at the very end.

Mostly, I shoot to document things. My "win" is if somebody uses my photo, in an article or whatever. Not coincidentally, I was a yearbook photographer in highschool (and photo editor), and in college I worked for the Alumni Publications Office, shooting assignments they gave me.

And, when an editor is picking from my photos and putting them into an article, it's much better for me to give them some room for cropping to fit their page. Artistically, it's the page as a whole that needs to be optimized, not just my photo, and what works best for that article and that page layout may not be what I saw most strongly in the subject. (Plus of course there are other people involved, the editor may simply have different preferences from me.)

Like, probably, most of us, I do snapshots (personal documentation) and documentary (documentation that might possibly be of interest to somebody I'm not closely related to) and art (whatever that is :-) ). But my "home" is documentation/snapshots (which are the same thing except for the size and diversity of the audience). I suspect most of us do some of each, but the ratios vary a lot (and no doubt a few never ever touch one or the other extreme).

Some of the more purist / one-true-way approaches sound really counter-productive if I want somebody to voluntarily use my photos in their book / article / web page. And no doubt my concern for the artistic choices of others sounds weak or something to those with a single-minded commitment to their own unique artistic vision.

We need to remember in these discussions the wide range of ways and reasons we photograph.

Might be time for a very used Mamiya 6.

I've shot both 6x6 and 35mm for most of my photographic life, and adapted to each. Now most of my work is done on Nikons with 3:2. However...I have a Canon Powershot as my always with me pocket camera, and I have taped off the viewfinder to give me the beloved square format view which I then crop firmly in post. Best of both worlds.

I love the 3:2 ratio and although I'm not taking you too seriously, it does bug me a little when people refer to it as "pedestrian." That type of classification is illogical. These days it would make more sense to label the 4:3 ratio as pedestrian, considering that everybody and your mom shoots that ratio with their digital point and shoot.

Wow, Kirk, the woman with the goggles is one of my favorite portraits ever.

It's Photoshopped, right? Nobody really has eyes like that. (g)

Such a great read, reminds me how much I absolutely loved my Hasselblad 503CW ... maybe I should look back at digging it out of the garage!

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