Let's get things in perspective...

For any of you that saw the recent #thedress colour debate this is a kind of twist on that...ie, not everything is always as it seems and I wanted to link that to the thought process that photographers go through when editing for a final image.

Rather than colour or white balance (which made the dress situation tricky) I'm focusing on perspective and how different aspect ratios can give quite a different feel to the same picture. The aspect ratio you chose can help highlight certain areas of a picture, provide a mood (calming or more tension) and make the viewers eye feel more relaxed or more active depending on the space within the image to move about.

The standard DSLR style camera that I use shoots in 3:2 aspect ratio, there is an example of this in the picture below which is 'straight from the camera' of a beach scene at Mewslade Bay:

Image #1 - In standard 3:2 ratio from the camera (click to enlarge image)

Here we can see the full scene in it's entirety, the rocks are present in the foreground, there is a bit of headland jutting into the top right of the image to give a bit of scale and sense of place and of course we can see the sun beams breaking through a dense sky. It's generally quite a wide open scene with just the 3 main elements as described above.

So, let's see for example what happens with the scene when we change it to 16:9...

Image #2 - In 'widescreen' 16:9 ratio, as used by some movie makers (click to enlarge)

At first glance it doesn't look very different but if you compare to the first 3:2 ratio you can see that by loosing a little at the top & bottom of the image we've condensed the elements, does this give the image a feeling of extra width? Does it allow all the elements enough space? Are the rocks too close to the bottom of the frame? Do we end up with a 'gap' in the middle of the image? This can be quite subjective so don't be afraid to prefer any style!

If we take the image into a smaller 4:3 aspect ratio we have to make some decisions...

Image #3 - In 4:3 ratio (click to enlarge)

Here we have taken the image down to a 4:3 ratio and we've had to restrict what now goes in the frame, I decided on this example to lose the headland from the upper right part of the image, for me the rocks, the sun and the reflections are the main area of interest so I chose to highlight them. For me I don't often settle on a 4:3, there are probably some scientific reasons (!) but for me it all feels a bit cramped, or 'shut in', I'd either like to see more of the scene OR see the order of a 1:1 square crop, as we'll go onto below...

Image #4 - The 1:1 or 'Square Crop'

This is a crop I'm becoming more and more comfortable with. For me, the order and uniformity of the 1:1 crop works really well when there are strong graphic elements that are structured and/or when there is a distilled scene with just 2 or 3 points of interest, something I'm often trying to introduce into my vision and style. In the scene above I think it helps simplify the composition and bring a sense of balance.

My personal favourites here would be the 16:9 to really get the sense of a wide sweeping vista, or the 1:1 which helps keep all the elements balanced and provide a window into the view that doesn't feel cramped and retains a sense of order.

So - it's never as simple as just turning up and pressing the shutter. Some cameras allow you to switch aspect ratio when taking the image, sadly mine doesn't! So, for now it's a case of considering at the time of shooting what you can 'envisage' the final result to be and also when editing it's a good tool to help you settle on a final 'best image'.

Feel free to comment on your preferred aspect ratio for this picture...and why!