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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Content Aware Scale


I’ve been out in the field for two long days during my workshop at the Palm Springs Photo Festival. One of the techniques we practiced is exploring how using Photoshop’s Transform and Content-Aware Scale can change the way you make exposures – opening up possibilities for both strengthening classic compositions and also for making new compositions you might otherwise pass by – or not see.
The classic Photoshop Transform tools have been long overlooked and underutilized. Now, in Photoshop CS4, we’ve got a new way to Transform our images – Content-Aware Scale. This will scale specific areas of an image more than others. Many photographers scale an image to resize it. Sometimes portrait photographers squeeze images 10% horizontally to make people look thinner. But how many photographers use these tools to create more compelling proportions in their images? How many use them as a tool to strengthen or weaken relationships in their images by making areas of an image closer to or further away from one another. Few. These are new tools. They’re not hard to master technically. Activate the tool of your choice and then push or pull. Simple. (Favor squeezing instead of expanding to avoid upsampling artifacts.) This may be challenging for some to feel comfortable with as an accepted practice. We accept the distortions of lenses. Why is this type of post-processing any less acceptable? This is challenging to master perceptually. Incorporating these new tools into your ways of seeing takes practice. Once you do master them, you’ll find you’ll make new types of exposures with these possibilities in mind. You’ll learn one more way of seeing your subjects. New possibilities bring new ways of seeing. To master them you’ve got to use them – a lot. It takes practice. Try it. And keep using it. This technique can make an amazing difference in many images.
Learn these and other techniques in my upcoming Workshops.
Find out more in my downloads.