How To Control The Proportion Of Your Images’ Frames Expressively

 

The proportion of an image’s frame (or aspect ratio) is a fundamental part of the statement it makes. Aspect ratio influences the way both the photographer and their audiences see images. Many photographers choose particular camera formats (35mm, 645, 2¼, 6x17, 4x5) because they reinforce particular ways of seeing. For instance, square formats emphasize neither vertical nor horizontal motions and reinforce the geometries framed within them, while panoramic formats encourage the eye to sweep across images in long strokes, typically but not exclusively horizontally.

Of course, all images can be cropped. Through elimination, an image’s aspect ratio is modified. Reasons for cropping an image can vary; one reason is to eliminate unessential image areas; another reason is to change the proportion of the frame.

There are photographers who prefer to standardize the aspect ratio of their images. Many documentary photographers crop none of their images to indicate the objective stance they attempt to approach their subjects with, signaling a host of other related practices, and above all that they have intervened in and interpreted the events their images portrayed as little as possible. Other photographers standardize the aspect ratio of their images to draw attention away from the proportion of the frame to other aspects of their images. Repetition typically deflects attention from an image element, while variation draws attention to itself. Still, other photographers standardize the proportion of their images to make matting and framing easier and more economical. Some do it simply out of habit. No matter what type of photographer you are and what your standard practice is, I recommend you explore your options. (To gain the maximum benefit from your explorations, draw some conclusions from the results of your experiments.) Careful cropping can make your images stronger.

There’s an art to cropping; it can clarify and energize a majority of images and even substantially modify the content of a few. At one time or another, most photographers adopt this practice – some elevate it to an art.

With Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, and Photoshop you can non-destructively crop your images so that pixels are hidden rather than eliminated. This is now the default behavior of these softwares. Later, if you wish to change the crop of an image you can reuse the Crop tool to reclaim these hidden pixels and make modifications without having to reprocess the original Raw file they were derived from.

Few photographers explore distorting their images to change aspect ratio. In large part, this is because distortion is a practice so new that not enough time has elapsed for it to become a habitual part of our tradition. In some cases, the practice of distortion is discouraged; it is not appropriate for the creation of forensic or documentary images. In a few cases, it is encouraged; many portrait photographers squeeze their images horizontally making their subjects look thinner, a transformation as little as 5-10% is often undetectable to the casual observer but nonetheless highly flattering to the subject, some think it takes off the ten pounds the camera adds on. Whether you are influenced by the force of habit or respect for tradition, remember that both lead to learned behaviors, which can be modified. Distortion offers extraordinary expressive opportunities. You owe it to yourself and your images to explore this option. Whether you choose to do this often or infrequently, a little or a lot, is something only you and time can tell.


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The Art Of Distortion

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1          Correct lens distortion

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2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions

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3          Modify proportion globally including the aspect ratio of the frame

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4          Modify proportion locally within the frame

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5          Change proximity

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6          Enhance gesture

We accept the distortions angle of view and lens choice create without a second thought yet rarely do we give a second thought to the possibilities of expressively distorting our photographs during post-processing. The dazzling array of new tools at our disposal begs us to reconsider this. You need to know what’s possible, whether your goal is to correct the distortions introduced by the tools you use or to aesthetically refine or expressively enhance your images, a little or a lot, or to simply know what other photographers have done so that you can understand their creations better. Learn to see with new eyes and a vast new horizon of possibilities will reveal itself to you.
Awareness of the distortions produced by an angle of view and lens choice is the beginning of using them creatively. Curiously, permission is the beginning of using distortion in post-processing creatively. Many people have been told that it’s inappropriate to do so. Why? Why accept an unintended mechanical bi-product but not a consciously intended effect? Why take such a powerful tool for expression off the table? While you can, you don’t have to distort your images to the point that they look like they’re being seen in a fun house hall of mirrors. Even the subtlest applications of distortion can produce powerful results. Once you understand what kinds of distortions are possible in post-processing you’ll frequently find yourself changing your angle of view or repositioning yourself during exposure.
6 Strategies For Using Distortion In Images
Here’s a short list of six strategies you can use when considering distorting your images creatively.
1          Correct lens distortion; straighten a horizontal or vertical while correcting barrel or pin cushion distortion.
2          Remove or reduce panoramic stitch distortions; undistort edges or smooth out uneven horizontals or verticals.
3          Modify proportion globally including the frame; make images more or less horizontal or vertical or even turn one into another.
4          Modify proportion locally within the frame; adjust the height and width of both objects and areas.
5          Change proximity; push together or pull apart items.
6          Enhance or change gesture; make a leaning object more tilted or straighten it out.
Photoshop's 11 Weapons Of Mass Distortion


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Exploring The Expressive Possibilities Of Aspect Ratio

Distortions of the same image explore aspect ratio expressively

The proportion of an image’s frame is a fundamental part of its statement.
Unlike many documentary photographers who keep the proportion of their image frames constant to reduce their presence and suggest that their images haven’t been altered, I do the opposite for precisely the opposite reason, to more clearly highlight that my images have been altered by me. The question of whether an image has or has not been altered is a misleading question. Every image, whether documentary or artistic, has been altered, but to different degrees, in different ways, and for different reasons. Questions of method, extent, and intent are more revealing and interesting.
I use the proportion of the frame expressively. Because different proportions each add something different, I don’t standardize, I customize the proportions of my images. I distort the frame, crop the frame, and/or extend the frame through compositing and sometimes retouching, before settling on a final solution that creates the strongest statement.
How do you use aspect ratio in your images?
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