Aspect ratio

I always thought and still do (although less strongly) that a photograph should be composed "in camera" and neither in the darkroom nor in the computer (this is where the photograph is developed). So at the beginning of the digital photography age I was hesitant whether I considered it acceptable to crop an image to whatever ratio. In the meantime, I have become more used to digital alterations of all kinds and refined my definition of a photograph. I now consider it one of the benefits of digital photography that we are liberated from a defined and specific aspect ratio.
In a sense, aspect ratio has always been flexible to some extent. With classical 35mm film the aspect ratio of photographs is defined to 3:2, but specialized panoramic cameras produce wider photographs. Medium format cameras feature larger formats such as 6x6, 6x4.5 or 6x7 and solutions to change from one format to another exist. Since now virtually all photographs are processed with the help of computers, even those that are taken analogously, it is easy to crop a photograph to whatever dimension a photographer might fancy. The size and format of the originally captured photographs has become so unimportant that more pragmatic aspects like the computer screen sizes, the design and layout of web pages (such as square thumbnails) and the dimensions of paper and frames may be more defining for the final aspect ratio than the capturing device's dimensions.
In my opinion, the format of a photograph should be determined, even imposed, by the subject and by your personal preference and taste. When I took analog photographs (slides actually), I was often longing for a wider, more panoramic format. The camera that I am using at the moment allows me to select and change the aspect ratio and it displays the chosen image format also in the electronic viewfinder. Since I have started using this camera I have become fond of the square format and very much like its symmetry. You may say that aspect ratio selection is completely unnecessary because our photographs can be trimmed to any aspect ratio in the digital darkroom. I would have said the same, but the experience with my new camera taught me otherwise. Surprisingly, the aspect ratio selection button is one of my most frequently used nubs of all! Changing and adjusting the aspect ratio for each subject and photograph has become very similar to changing lenses and selecting a particular focal length. I really enjoy this photographic process because it allows me to compose and take the photograph exactly as I want the final photograph to be (at least with respect to aspect ratio) on the scene. I am not sure if I could ever be satisfied again with a camera without this great feature!

A square photograph that was captured and composed as a square. First snow and red square on a square in Zurich.

2011/11/27 by Florian Freimoser
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