Aspect ratios: those squares and rectangles
We’ve tackled previously the subject of filling the frame, or how to compose a shot with the subject filling up the four corners of the frame we call a viewfinder. To photograph is to exclude, as the great Susan Sontag once said. And to exclude is part of composition – that is, to include only the essential, the point of interest, and to exclude all the others in the frame that does not emphasize or relate to the main subject. The problem nowadays is that the “frame” comes in different sizes, the proper terminology is “aspect ratios.” How do you present your subject on a 4:3 (think of your old analog TV screen) aspect ratio from that of a cinematic 16:9 (think of your new HDTV screen). From 4:3 to 16:9 there will be lots of exclusions of the subjects and other elements that you will have to do. For example in the above photo of the boat presented in 16:9, I would have to do away with most of the right side of the image if I were to present it in a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio. In the first place, how many aspect ratios are there? To answer that, my mainstay editing program PhotoScape alone has 25 aspect ratio choices in its cropping menu, though mostly there are just 6 in common use on cameras today. But the point of this post is – aspect ratio affects your composition, or what you put inside that frame. Here is a VERY interesting article titled An Introduction to Aspect Ratios and Compositional Theory. The author, Malaysian-based photographer Ming Thein, explains that the aim of the article is to “focus on understanding the compositional impact of different aspect ratios, and more importantly, how to pick the right aspect ratio for a given subject.” As most people will probably just go by the native aspect ratio of their camera and not do anything about it, the author says this is “compositionally very, very sloppy.” Read the rest of this informative article and add another chapter in your growing library of photographic knowledge. Now when you shoot those fireworks this New Year, think if they can best be presented in 1:1, 5:4, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 2.40:1. That many? Yes, and that’s just a few. Hehe. Happy aspect shooting!