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Aspect Ratio (symbols)

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It's not something you can ignore


maybe not ignore but aspect ratio, according to the good folk at the washington national gallery of art, isn't something to fuss over*.


they describe Atget as working with a 16x24cm camera which they say is roughly 8x10in which is pretty revealing as they are saying think of 3:2 as roughly 5:4. which, imho, tgif, gstq, ymmv, is fairly dismissive of aspect ratios.


which begs the question when can 2 aspect ratios be considered roughly equal and is that relationship artist invariant? id est, how good does a photo/artist have to be for a change in AR to be negligible?


* Atget: The Art of Documentary Photography

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I do find certain aspect ratios more cinematic

Fred, by cinematic do you mean widescreen or something else, like mood?


BTW, according to wikipedia the AR commonly used in the US cinemas (1.85:1) is different to the one used in Europe (1.66:1) which again suggests AR isn't that important at least to movie directors, viewers etc*.



* Aspect ratio (image) - Wikipedia

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I'd say I mean something along the lines of visual mood. A sense that things are moving, larger than life, enveloping. Much as I love square format photos in a lot of cases, I tend not often to find them cinematic. Of course, most 2:3 photos don't seem cinematic either, which suggests to me that AR may play a kind of baseline role but content, composition and other things are driving it for me.
We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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Yamamoto Masao printing in different aspect ratio's makes sense since his tiny prints are conceived to be these precious objects with each one being unique.

Phil, could you remind us what ratio YM shoots with and what he prints with? thanks

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Well, I have always been acutely aware of aspect ratio since starting out with film, which imposes different aspect ratios depending on format. I've always thought 35mm was a bit too "long" because it didn't fit into the 8x10 ratio. 4x5 (8x10,16x20, etc.)was always very comfortable for me. And 21/4 x 2/14 is really fun to work with, both with people and landscapes. The challenge has always been to compose within the limits imposed by the frame. Yes, you can crop later of course, but during the shooting, you are looking at the camera's aspect ratio while you are composing. That said, I tend to compose the visual elements within the frame in terms of "balance." I sometimes go for a bit of "visual tension" between the elements in the frame, instead of achieving a perfect balance. Here's an example: 1341783816_16x20cloudsoversantabarbara.thumb.jpg.633dfa23b034c17a1edf0247c18a112b.jpg
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Thanks very much, Steve. Those are excellent, and very helpful.


Many photographers are very ambivalent about using anything other than the camera's given aspect ratio. Why?


It's as if they take it to be "against the rules" to change the boundaries of the game, or the shape of the thing — that's cheating!


In Fred Picker's book, The Fine Print, in one of his examples, he crops a small part from a larger take (that he shows) but only with an apology where he says that he thinks cropping is evidence of "sloppy seeing." Why isn't it just as much "sloppy seeing" to take the given proportions without a thought? (And several of his other examples look suspiciously not quite the same as the proportions out of camera ... )


But then, without noticing the contradiction, at the end of the book, he gives an out-of-camera picture [see it here] and writes this:


... here is a worthwhile exercise that can be performed with prints ...


The object is to find as many small complete images as possible. Cut out the ones you see with scissors. This will not only help you see the values and forms in each image, but more importantly, it will train your eye to search out and spatially relate tiny areas — an ability that will enrich future photographs.


As the accompanying example indicates [
], the mini-prints can be of any size or shape. This game has no rules other than the limits of your imagination.


Why or why are there "no rules" only in this game? Why should there be "limits to your imagination" anywhere except here?

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BTW, according to wikipedia the AR commonly used in the US cinemas (1.85:1) is different to the one used in Europe (1.66:1) which again suggests AR isn't that important at least to movie directors, viewers etc*.

Norman, thought you might find parts of this interview interesting. It's linked below. It's with Wes Anderson who directed The Grand Budapest Hotel using three different aspect ratios in the course of the film.



Wes Anderson Talks THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, the Film’s Cast, His Aesthetic, Shifting Aspect Ratios, and More

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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Thanks for the links Fred, definitely worthwhile reading.


What it also shows is how the symbolism or response to a given aspect ratio is relevant to the one that precedes or comes after it.


My own thoughts too and I also think the change between ratios needs to be significant. In Mommy, for example, it goes from 1:1 -> 1.85:1, The Grand Budapest Hotel uses 3 quite distinct ratios although I am not sure why 3 ratios were needed as the first (1.85:1) was only used briefly.


A couple of other thought about Mommy. Firstly, the writer of the article says, when describing the change in ratios


What had seemed like a cramped and uninteresting environment now reveals itself as a lushly verdant suburb, with attractive houses, trees and garden

Has anyone here ever thought of 1:1 as a cramped and uninteresting environment? I think the only time that is the case is when 1:1 is used inappropriately. So, to me, the director has maximized the impact of changing ratios by going from an inappropriate ratio to an appropriate one.


Secondly, the reviewer of Mommy describes the director as*

Gimmick-prone filmmaker Xavier Dolan

which doesn't sound too complimentary. Mixing ratios is new but is it a gimmick?

* Mommy Review

Edited by Norman 202
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Use of negative space seems worth considering. I have a few shots I'm glad were shot in 2:3 instead of 4:5 or square because I like how the negative space complements/competes with/overwhelms the person I was shooting. Could have been accomplished with a more square format but not sure it would have been as effective.


Portraits where the environment is not going to be crucial can sometimes work better in square or 4:5 in order to help get a full body into the frame while staying close enough to still exclude the surroundings. Of course, full body portraits work well in a portrait orientation 2:3 but the 4:5 and square can give the photo a little more heft.

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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"... the terrestrial animal maintains permanent orientation to the earth — that is, to gravity and the surface of support, these being the chief constants of the environment." — J.J. Gibson




"... We look at the situation from our human perspective, that is, from the viewpoint of small creatures that crawl on the surface of the earth. ... Our relation to the downward pull is somewhat ambiguous. We may experience it not as an attraction from the outside but as weight, that is, as a property of our own body. Weight is perceived as an active force that presses us downward. Even so, this heaviness is not felt as being under our control; it is a burden we have to cope with. Any initiative toward movement must overcome the inertia inherent in weight." — Rudolf Arnheim


"... The range of inputs, from a horizontal posture through vertical to horizontal again, defines the meaning of any given input. Consequently the animal's nervous system must have differentiated this range if it is to detect "down" and make compensatory righting reactions." — J.J. Gibson


"... In the field of forces pervading our living space, any upward movement requires the investment of special energy, whereas downward movement can be accomplished by mere dropping or by merely removing any supports that keep objects from falling." — Rudolph Arnheim




"... The occurrence of "whiteout" in the environment of a level snowplain under certain special weather conditions is instructive in this connection.... It is said to be a very alarming experience for those who drive vehicles about in arctic regions [and for pilots anywhere]." — J.J. Gibson




"... Human beings experience the dynamic asymmetry, or anisotropy of space by means of two senses, kinesthesis and vision. ... Visually, the world is pervaded by a ... downward pull, whose influence on the dynamic character of things we see may be illustrated by the difference between what goes on visually in horizontal and vertical surfaces." — Rudolph Arnheim




"... As we look at objects standing on the ground, be they trees or buildings, statues or even upright human beings, we see them as both pressing downward by their own weight and being pulled down by the ground's attraction, but also as sprouting up from the ground. The dominant direction depends on how much a center of its own is perceived in the object." — Rudolph Arnheim


"Gravity is a universal and continuous constant. All organisms, even the plants, respond in some sense to gravity. The most primitive kind of responsiveness, accordingly, is that to gravity." — J.J. Gibson

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The Gourds, 1916 by Henri Matisse (65cm x 80cm)


Each of the five objects is endowed with properties that make it strive against the gravitational pull: the large blue gourd reaches upward with its neck; the pitcher is dominated by the crescendo of the opening cone and a handle whose center lies high up; the little red funnel has its maximum expansion at the upper rim; the handle of the pan cover makes it seem ready to lift off; and a yellow gourd on the plate points upward like a chimney. Together the five shapes form a chorus of uplift, which strongly influence the mood of the entire performance.


So much for the effect of the most powerful outer center [gravity] upon Matisse's painting. It is equally true, however, that the painting's distance from the floor and its protective frame isolate it sufficiently to let the five elements of the composition float in space rather freely. Only the fruits and vegetables on the plate rest on a base. The black and blue background of the picture offers no such support. Each of the five objects, of course, is a dynamic center of its own, and together they are organized around the balancing center in the middle of the rectangular canvas. The balancing center is not explicitly indicated by the painter — it has no "retinal presence" — but it is perceptually indispensable for establishing the equilibrium of the composition as a whole.


The effects of the five objects upon one another depend on their relative visual weights, and these weights are determined by various factors, such as their size, their flatness or volume,
their conformity to the framework of verticality and horizontality
, their color and brightness, and so on. These various weight factors also determine the distances between the objects. They are established by the painter with delicate intuition. We understand, for example, that the two lower shapes, because of their heaviness, must keep a greater distance between them than the smaller shapes, whose mutual attraction is weaker and therefore requires less restraint. —
Rudolph Arnhem
[emphasis added]




[Though I have nothing to contribute to it, I'm enjoying the discussion of cinematic aspect ratio.]

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The concepts of vertical and horizontal derive from living in a gravity well, which makes me wonder what frames would look like if we had evolved without gravity. Circular frames, like the portholes on the space station, might make more sense than square frames. The first Kodak box cameras, or Snap's Spectacles, with their circular formats, might be preferred. How would art evolve without gravity? Eduardo Kac, who has had his art on the International Space Station, has thought about this: A Space Odyssey: Making Art Up There.


Buckminster Fuller pointed out that in Universe, there is no up and down, only in and out in relation to gravity wells.


It's interesting that in many drawings or photographs of things seen through a microscope or telescope, the edge or frame is circular. The different worlds seen through the instruments don't seem as bound to our gravity, and it might be natural to use a circular frame for reasons beyond the circular field of view presented by the instrument. And speaking of the cinema, presenting a circular view suggests something outside of our immediate surroundings - looking through a keyhole or security peephole into another room, or through a telescope or microscope into another realm.

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