Aspect Ratio (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jul 1, 2017.

  1. I really wanted to title this thread Eccentricity, but I couldn't quite squeeze Aspect Ratio into that lovely, so much sexier, word.

    Aspect ratio is the symbolism that every picture can't escape from. Even the cave paintings end up having it.


    Here is Rudolph Arnheim to take you through the options. I'm not going to indent the following, but it is all from Arnheim:

    "The dominant pull of gravity makes the space we live in asymmetrical. Geometrically, there is no difference between up and down; dynamically, the difference is fundamental.

    "... Every one of the edges that make up an enclosure is, in our terms, a combination of centricity and eccentric extension. It generates tension-loaded fields that reach into the outer and the inner neighborhood, and these fields diminish in strength and increasing distance.

    "... A rectangular frame makes the eccentric axes dominate and thereby favors the comings and goings in goal-directed activity. In representational painting, a landscape or crowd scene will normally call for horizontal extension, whereas a full-length portrait or a waterfall calls for verticality within the picture. It makes the portrayed figure taller and the waterfall narrower and longer. In a landscape of horizontal format, the waterfall would lose some of its intensifying support, but it would also acquire a particular accent through the contrast it offers with the horizontality of the total scene.


    "... The walls of a room may be called [a] frame. If the room is cylindrical — as, for example, the interior hall of a baptistery — its center claims the place of greatest importance. This is true also for square-shaped rooms, where the equality of the eccentric axes supports centricity. A rectangular room will emphasize eccentricity and will have some of the connotations of a passageway. It will make a table look longer or shorter, depending on which way it is placed. It will also give the table the connotation of either conforming to the flow of action in the room or blocking it as a counteragent.


    "... The shorter walls serve as base of departure or as goal, depending on the direction of the room's movement, and the two longer walls form the lateral bed of a channel.


    "... circular enclosures underscore the detachment of subject matter from the environment. When religious images aim to stress their transcendence, they can do so effectively by choosing a format that estranges them spatially from a secular setting. On the other hand, the detachment from earthly gravity predisposes circular enclosures also for playful decoration and frivolity by evoking a "floating world," unencumbered by the burden of practical chores.


    "... The shape of the square enclosure and its internal structure are subject to the eccentric grid and therefore are intimately related to the vertical / horizontal framework of architectural settings.

    "... Not that it excludes spiritual subject matter; but just as the balancing center of the square tends to rely on the crossings of the linear coordinates, its subject matter has a way of elevating its theme by defining it through the crossing of the terrestrial horizontal with the ethereal upright.

    "... An overall stillness rather than pervasive turbulence is the mood that suits the format of the square.

    dcstep likes this.
  2. Arnheim's words, do little, or nothing for me in understanding why I pick certain aspect ratios for certain subjects.

    In the sample given, I'm drawn to the square version. To me, it's more balanced and more stable. I crop many of my own images square. I like to think it's about balance, but maybe it's because my first camera was a 44x44mm TLR that I bought at 11 and used until I was in college and bought my first SLR. I saw nothing but square prints and slides for years and, of course, I composed in a square viewfinder. Early experiences can have deep impact on us.

    I think that my experience at a young age draws me toward square, but that doesn't explain a certain affinity for 2:1 and 5:4. I seldom leave the aspect ratios the same as offered by my Canon dslr. I find myself thinking about how I'll change the aspect ration in RAW conversion, as I'm taking the picture.

    Like other compositional elements, I do believe that aspect ratio has a big impact on the balance and power of the finished image. I don't see any relation to eccentricity. Eccentric would be taking a panoramic shot with my 14mm lens and then cropping it 1:1. Maybe in the example above, to be eccentric, I'd put it in a circle instead of a square, just to annoy my viewers. I don't think along those lines in my photography, since a main goal for me is to give my viewer satisfaction; however, for others, there's certain power in putting viewers off balance.
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    In order to refine ar image, despite strenuous efforts to do so with the finder, any aspect ratio can be used. The effectiveness of the choice is based in the skill of the photographer and his or her particular vision. On occasion I use any and all including free crop.
    This reminds me of discussions of wine -- "a certain earthiness, combined with fruit and a touch of vanilla."
  4. —Celia Rivenbark

    The 2:3 ratio allowed it to be framed in a standard, cheap 4x6 frame as a memento of Jonas's amateur pizza making days. He worked hard prepping, twirling, and baking so he probably ate at a rate of 2:1 compared to the rest of us, every slice delicious and deserved.
  5. Skinny Oprah, fat Oprah; Oprah reclining, Oprah standing. Oprah fits in all of them. Is Oprah the same in all of them? Is the same Oprah in all of them?

    David, that's probably my fault. Arnheim uses the term to mean convergence or divergence from/to the center (centric, eccentric). In his earlier writings he had used 'vectors' to try to get at the energy pull/push of the center to/from/against the edges, but people had a hard time with that mathematical term, so he was trying 'eccentric' instead.

    Is that a failure of the tongue, or a failure of words? Or do you think they're lying?
    dcstep likes this.
  6. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    there is no gravity in a photo, no relativity, no electromagnetic forces. aspect ratios are just numbers separated by a ":"
  7. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Julie -- neither, just puffery in pursuit of credibility / relevance.

  8. Why? What is it about those words that makes them "puffery"? You disapprove of "credibility/relevance"?
  9. Sandy can answer for himself if he wants, and I'm not sure why he would want to, but I'd like to take a stab at this.

    I don't get the sense, from this thread and many other things Sandy has said (even the ones I strongly disagree with) that he disapproves of credibility or relevance. As a matter of fact, I suspect he thinks those are important qualities. Now this is, of course, just a guess, but probably a little more than just a stab in the dark, but I think it's puffery that is the issue here. What makes Arnheim's words puffery is their insipid and fantastical metaphoric exaggeration, their making something quite simple to understand if talked about in down-to-earth terms sound much more complicated and serious than it needs to be, their beating around the bush at something fairly straightforward, and their being endlessly quoted in an otherwise somewhat casual Philosophy of Photography forum instead of in a university classroom which might be a better place for them to be studied.
  10. Ah. What you and Sandy are really saying is you don't like my post(s). Once again, here is how you can so easily remedy that:


    Easy peezy. Thanks!
  11. Julie, you've now suggested the IGNORE button in several different threads to several of us. Let me say a couple of things about this:

    First and foremost, it's available to you as well!

    Second, I actually do use it and have you on ignore, so I don't see a lot of your posts, which frees my time up for more No Words contributions. It's quite easy, though, to UNIGNORE on a case by case basis, which I do when someone else who I either follow or tend to be interested in posts something and I want to get the context of the conversation. So, while I use the IGNORE function (for only 3 PN members), I also will, for some threads, toggle back and forth, reading some posts of those I ignore so I can understand what folks are responding to that may be of interest to me. In this case, for example, I read only the first two quotes of Arnheim which was more than enough to sample in order to write my post about puffery.

  12. No need for that in my case.

    I have always posted the way I always do. I will continue to always post in the same way as I always have, I promise. There is no need for you to "toggle back and forth." My posts will be exactly of the same kind and manner as they have always been. Always.
  13. You didn't understand my post, which is why you don't see the need. I know your posts will be exactly of the same kind and manner they have always been. But in order to understand the people whose more personal and individual thoughts I do care about, it is sometimes necessary for me to know the substance of what they're responding to, and sometimes they are responding to you. So, while I can usually predict the kind and manner of what I will read when I unignore you, I can't usually predict the substance of what you said, and I sometimes need that for having a conversation with those whose posts tend to be about thoughts of their own and are of interest to me. I hope this makes more clear to you what I need. If not, don't worry too much about it, because it's what I need (or, at least, want).
  14. I've grown into using just one aspect ratio for everything for the sake of economy (not simplicity). Having shot in different film formats I had to choose between the aspect ratio of 35mm and the aspect ratio of 6x7 medium format. At one point when comparing my 6x7 medium format images to my 35mm images I felt the 35mm ones to be too narrow and wide so I went with the aspect ratio that's closest to 6x7 film format, also for all my digital files.

    The difference between the horizontal format and vertical format Arnheim talks about is not a difference in aspect ratio. It's a difference in composition. Ralph Gibson shoots alsmost exclusively in the vertical composition in the 35mm aspect ratio and is an example of a photographer who has mastered the vertical format.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2017
  15. The fact is that the world is more complicated than it needs to be. No amount of being folksy about it will change that. Arnheim's theories address the psychology behind seeing and visual communication. Stuff that happens to be complex.
  16. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Fred, you have a gift for going directly to the essence of a thing that I find remarkable.Kudos!

    As using the computer to Ignore someone, brain, given sensory input easily accomplishes that task. There is something to be learned from nearly anyone, and a considerably better than average opportunity from some of Julie's posts.
  17. I've never been much for "folksiness." I think there are a lot of other ways of writing and speaking.
    I wasn't talking about Arnheim's theories. I was talking about how these particular isolated quotes of his come off to me out of the context of his books and in the context of this forum.
  18. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Yeah, Phil (folksiness intended) Boring -- obviously, freedom hall, your style your choice sometimes vistas open if you dare to be free from yourself. Just my opinion!
  19. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    well, i'm not sure the world is overly complicated, it is as complicated as it is.

    And presented in an overly complex way. Arnheim has already reduced the complexity of his writing by dropping 'vectors' in favour of centric, concentric, eccentric, etc and there is no doubt the complexity could be reduced even more but what philosophers would read that? :)

    (from an information theory perspective, the complexity of mathematical notation has dropped 70% since the 18th century. food for thought)
  20. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    the only time i have ever thought about aspect ratio at the time of composition was when i used my iphone. for ergonomic reasons i prefer the portrait mode when holding the phone but i don't like the 2:3 ratio for photos so i choose 4:5.

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