The Art of Cropping

Visual  Storytelling Techniques

 

Aspect ratio, or format, in photography is the proportions of the frame, the relationship between the width and the height of the picture. It depends on the sensor of the camera, but in our digital age, it can be changed in the settings in some types of DSLRs. And it is not without consequences. A picture may be better in a different format and one of the editing techniques is to change the aspect ratio if it’s needed by cropping the picture.

This post will deal with the main formats – there are a lot of others – and with their effects in the storytelling.

 

4:3

Kitten in the Grass

History : It’s the former traditional TV format and a traditional format in photography.

Effect : Horizontal and vertical lines are balanced, though not equal. The effect is more or less neutral. In the landscape orientation, the horizontal plane is emphasized but the vertical plane keeps a significance too. In the portrait orientation, verticality is emphasized but the subject has enough space on both sides.

Positive points : It is neutral, so it can be used with a lot of varied subject matters.

Negative points : Its neutrality ?

Case study : On the picture above, because of the 4:3 format, we can see that it is not just about a kitten. It is lying in a relaxed way (horizontals), hidden behind some herbs (verticals) and watching what is on the other side. A different format would have focused more on the lying position and the lack of interaction between the vertical and horizontal lines would have told a different story.


3:2


Flat Mountains

History : It’s a former movie format and a traditional format in photography (35mm films).

Effect : It is less neutral than the 4:3 format, with an emphasis on the horizontal plane. Nevertheless, this format is more natural as it is more or less the same as the human field of vision in the sharp zone.

Positive points : It is very widespread nowadays and we have been conditioned to see it as a ‘normal’ format. More specifically it is a good aspect ratio for horizontal subjects, at least for subjects in which verticality is not important. A very good format for landscapes and for whole body pictures in the portrait orientation.

Negative points : Unless particular conditions, it is not suitable for vertical subjects in the landscape orientation, so it is not a good aspect ratio for portraiture. Even in the portrait orientation, shooting portrait with this format is not so good because the person seems to be locked in a very tiny space.

Case study : In the picture above, there is no real vertical lines. It is a pasture mountain and despite the fact that it is a mountain range, the landscape seems to be flat. The mountains seem to be interwoven from this point of view and the 3:2 format is well suited to give this impression. A different format would have broken the effect by adding some vertical significance.

 

Tight in a bud

 

Case study 2 : A counter example of what has been said in the negative points. When the story needs a closed space it may be a good format. In this picture, Tight in a Bud, the eyes are shut and the positon of the head and the shoulder suggests some kind of retreating into one’s shell, or a moment before opening up, depending on what the viewer wants to see in it.

 

1:1

Faded Iris 2

History : It was a traditional photography format from the 1950s to the 1970s. This format has regained popularity due to social media, as it is the standard format for avatars and thumbnail previews all around the web.

Effect : Because of its history it may add a vintage touch to a picture, especially if it is in black and white or in vintage colours. Apart from that, the most notable feature of this format is the perfect square. Horizontals and verticals don’t matter any more. The eye can no longer relate to what it is accustomed to and the reading becomes circular.

Positive points : It is well suited for symetrical subjects, for patterns, for round shapes. Or when you want to centre the subject inside the frame.  Fine art photographers use it a lot, maybe because of its perfect balanced shape, or because this kind of photography is not so interested in the real things in the real world and is too happy to express itself in a surface where the basic perception of the world, with its well organised space-time, is abolished. You may picture imagination, poetry, or organise a new world within the frame.

Negative points : Composition is more difficult, unless you centre the subject or deal with symetry. Its perfect shape may reveal imbalance in the subject more than with other formats. It is not suited if horizontality or verticality is significant for the story in the picture.

Case Study : In the picture above, The Faded Iris, the white and black patterns of its dead petals and the shadows on the table are displayed. The structure is diagonal in both directions. The reading cannot be vertical or horizontal, it is circular and the eye remains on the flower. The square format adds an impression of stillness to this picture dealing with death.

 

16:9

In the Field

History : It is the new movie format.

Effect : Horizontality is of primary importance. It gives a sense of scenery. Or a sense of time. The picture is not a picture but a moment in time, a sequence captured from a series of pictures or from a movie, even if it is not the case. Because of its widespread use in movies, our eyes have been used to recognising this code.

Positive points : A good format for landscapes, panoramas, ‘on the road’ stories.

Negative points : It is a very unusual format in photography and may be awkward with an inapropriate subject.

Case Study : In the picture above, the close up on the bent herb and the 16:9 format gives an impression of a forced horizontality, especially as the other herbs are vertical. Movement is implicit. The movie format gives a sense of time and we may feel wind is softly blowing there, or that the story will go on with a travelling movement of the camera and we will know what is happening here in this field. With another format, it would have been a still life photograph. But in 16:9 format, life is not still and we expect a motion. That will never come, because it is not a movie!

 

As we saw the choice for a format or another is an important one, because of the natural shape of the subject or because of the story we want to tell. But as always, it is just a guide, and rules have to be understood to be forgotten. Behind these intellectual considerations, there is this magical moment of creation when you feel it must be done that way even if you can’t explain why. It’s in the eye, it’s in the feeling of an instant.

What’s your favourite format? How do you feel when your beautiful landscape is previewed in a square format on photography websites? How do you manage when you have not the choice because of the publishing medium (magazine page, book or CD cover, video slideshows etc)? Have you ever had to choose an unusual format?

 

 

When Bad is Good

Skills and Technique

We all had to cope with badly focused pictures, an unwanted shaking, or a bad setting. And what we thought would be a great photo is just a big failure. But sometimes during the culling process, there are some of them that we just can’t get rid of. We like them. With their defects. We like the poetry showing through the blur, the mysterious emotion we feel nevertheless..

Night at Sea

 

bokeh flower

 

moving selfie

 

The Colours of Light

Perception and Illusions

At the beginning, there was light. And black and white photography has emphasized the lines born out of light, the shapes emerging from darkness. Or is it darkness which carves the world out of light? We no longer know. They are the basic complementary building blocks of our perception, so intertwined that we cannot think about one without the other. The shadows and the highlights, the blacks and the whites, and all the palette of grays.
In black and white photography we grope our way in a world of forms, textures, matters. The world is well grounded, things are in order.

light-experimentThen, by a twist of the elements a new energy pours into these forms, and a new dimension arises : colours. They lay there, in the tiny display of the visible light for the human eye in the whole known electromagnetic spectrum – that’s to say, the fragmentation of light into wave lengths. We see these visible wave lengths as colours, and this small band is represented by the rainbow. But there are more than meet the eye. Invisible wave lengths flood the world of their invisible lights, and colours maybe. But the human eye seems not to perceive them and our brain is unable to decipher their presence. What we see is not the whole picture. There are also the infrareds, the micro waves, the radio waves, the ultraviolets, the X rays and the gamma rays, as far as we know.

RainbowAll the coloured beams light all the things around us. But for us, each object has a distinctive colour. If an object is red, for example, it is because red light is rejected, so to speak, from the surface of this object and the other colours are absorbed by it. We can only see refracted colours. How are the real surface of things? What are their intrinsic colour, if any? We can’t know, because we can’t see in the dark. And your camera can’t either. As a matter of fact, cameras don’t record colours. They record light and shadows. Colour photography needs devices to interpret shades of gray and match these shades with the corresponding colours. But it is a translation, an interpretation. That’s why colour hues, in photography, are so characteristic of an era, because techniques and inventions had to include this particular process of interpreting colours, and this interpretation has evolved over time.

Light and colours are not separate entities. They are one and the same. The way we see the world around us is the result of a network of interactions involving sunlight, matters and the way their surface deals with light, and more significantly, our eyes and our brain.

Super Moon 2014

Skills and Technique

This super moon 2014 was photographed all around the world and you can find many links dealing with it and showcasing the best pictures.

I had a try at photographing it too. It is actually not so difficult once you know why most of candid pictures of the moon are so blurry and displaying just a white big dot on the sky. If you want to experiment shooting the moon, you must first cope with the light. It is night but, though moonlight is indirect, it is very bright and you end up with highlights only. You must use a filter on your lense, the  same kind of filter as if you were shooting in full sun. Longest zoom range.. Now you’re ready. Last point to be aware of is that the moon is not still. It moves at fast speed even if you don’t see it with your naked eye and you will be unable to have a steady shot if you don’t use a very quick shutter speed. Now you’re done. A bit of contrast and exposition adjustment on the computer and here it is. Happy with the result as it was my first successfull picture of the moon.

Super Moon