While taken for granted by many, the shape of an image’s frame weighs very heavily on how it is composed. There are several frame shapes to consider in photography. The sky is practically the limit, if we consider all the shapes and sizes photography products come in. But for the sake of this course, we will focus on what are commonly seen and used while shooting.
The 3:2 ratio harkens back from the 35mm film days and is used by default by SLR cameras and some mobile phones. It is relatively close to the frame of our natural vision, and therefore makes for a good go-to size.
This is the default ratio for most of the point and shoot digital cameras that I have seen. If you’ve also noticed, standard definition TV and computer monitor screens also have this ratio. The narrow feel of the 4:3 ratio makes it well-suited for intimate portraits. It also tends to have a more focused feel, which may be something you are looking for in certain scenes.
This is probably the size which I use the least. I often find working with 3×2 sufficient when I go for a wide format, unless I’m going all out with a panorama (see below). But 16×9 is still important for photographers because it is followed by high definition (HD) video and widescreens. Chances are, right now you’re using a screen with either a 16:9 or 16:10 ratio. It’s a good idea to keep this in mind when incorporating photographs with video.
Wide scenic horizons and landscapes sometimes require ample widths. Panorama gives us just that. This frame comes closest to the width of the human vision. There is really no specific ratio to follow. Just follow what your subject demands.
Cameras like the old Polaroids take pictures with square frames. Admittedly, it’s not the easiest thing to compose. In fact, most of the time, I am only able to see if a picture is better off with a square frame during post processing. However, mobile photography and photo-sharing apps such as Instagram have also, or at least should prompt us to considering the square frame more consciously.
Simply flipping your camera vertically can drastically change how you compose your shot and how your viewer looks at it. A vertical orientation is also more appropriate for certain media. Experimenting with vertical and horizontal orientations can help you figure how to best frame your subject.
Take the sample picture below:
I don’t think this picture is all that bad, but I feel too much is going on in it. I found a solution, or at least an alternative. By zooming in and changing the orientation, I can give clear emphasis to one lantern and minimize distractions, as illustrated below:
While final touches on framing is commonly done during post processing, it is not a bad idea to execute while shooting. When you find yourself unable to decide, shoot both ways, or at least zoom out a little to give yourself some allowance during post processing.
Freeman, M. (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos (Kindle version). The Ilex Press, Burlington, MA, USA. p. 189-385.