Alternative aspect ratios

Bruce Percy, one of my favourite photographers, posted another interesting entry on his blog a few days ago.  As you may know if you’ve read other entries on my blog, he is not only a gifted photographer, but also offers brilliant photography workshops.  This particular blog posting was (provocatively) called “Abolish 3:2 (35mm)” and discussed aspect ratios: the size/shape of the viewfinders and resultant images in cameras. From the early days of 35mm film cameras to today’s DSLR cameras (as well as most compacts etc.), the format has stayed the same: all images are a multiple of 3 x 2. This makes for relatively long images, horizontally or vertically, but it’s not a very “natural” format, particularly for landscape imagery. After all, we don’t see the world in this way: our (peripheral) vision is much broader than this, and we see more in all directions. I have to say that I think the 3:2 format can work well for portraits because it can be used for the length of the human body. But for landscapes, a “squarer” format often tends to work better, either a real square (i.e. with sides of exactly the same length) or nearly square (such as 4×5 or 6×7 or similar). One of things Bruce tries to encourage is visualisation: “seeing” the image as you want it to be, even before you squeeze the shutter. He’s written quite a bit about this in his ebooks too (especially in “The Visual Sense“).  His blog posting was picked up by others (for example, The Photographer’s Ephemeris and then Tim Parkin, and a lively discussion took place about all this (on Twitter).

However, it is not always easy to visualise in a different aspect ratio to the one the camera offers.  Tim Parkin pointed to a product that did this for his DSLR (though Tim is mostly a large format, not a DSLR photographer). That seemed like a good idea, but even if it were available for my camera, it seemed like an unnecessary expense to a poor person like me, so here is my version of the same thing for my Nikon D90, manufactured at great expense (er… yes… that is a wonky piece of card I’ve cut to size and jammed in behind the plastic cover of my screen…):

4x5 template for D90

4x5 template for D90

It does present problems when I want to see all the settings, as some of the key menu options are hidden under the bottom piece of card:

4x5 template for D90

4x5 template for D90

Nonetheless, once I remembered to use the “liveview” function on the camera rather than composing through the viewfinder, it did change how I went about composing: rather than guessing at what a 4×5 ratio image would look like, I could really see it on the screen. It is stating the obvious to note that it does make quite a difference to see the image in the proportions I am ultimately aiming for – even if I intend to crop the image later.

4x5 template for D90

4x5 template for D90

Of course, what I want next is a quick and easy way to convert this template to a square format.

And for my film camera… er… I can see the argument for a new investment coming…

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Aspect ratios ( and photographing a model in the #snow: -- Topsy.com

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