Today's Photo Minute

Cropping and Learning about Aspect Ratios

The Concept:

How we crop (we usually use the word “crop” for what we would do to a picture after we take it and the term “framing” for how we would compose the subject in the viewfinder when we take the photo) can dramatically alter the overall impact of an image.   You might have seen my post about a month ago concerning how I learned this in a whole new way last year while participating in a sports photography workshop.  While it would be ideal to do our cropping and even our placement of the subject in the frame while we are shooting, sometimes it just is not possible (action photography, not having a powerful enough lens, etc.).

Furthermore, when we do discuss cropping our images, this usually begins another whole topic that is confusing to most photographers and that is aspect ratio (or the ratio of the height to width of certain common photographic sizes).   In short, most cameras shoot in an aspect ratio of 2:3 which comes out to a standard 4X6 print.  However, if you have ever tried to make let’s say an 8X10 photo, you realize quickly that what you had in the original aspect ratio that your camera captured, may not fit so well in the shorter aspect ratio of an 8X10.  Understanding how to crop your images is vitally important but understanding how different aspect ratios might help the final composition of your shot is even more important.

The Assignment:

I choose this photo of the squirrel shown above because first of all, I could not frame it in any tighter with the camera (I was already at 600mm on a DX format camera) and secondly because it is a subject that could work well in the center of the frame but that I might also want to try placing at different rule of thirds lines in the frame for more impact.  It is a photo I captured just the other day so I figured it would be fun to use for this suggested exercise.

I took the image into my editing software (any photo editor could do this) and after applying a little color and exposure adjustment to it, I hit Save As and renamed the photo, “Original”.   Then opening up the cropping function, I choose a 2:3 (often listed as 4X6) and cropped it tighter as a horizonal.  I then went to Save As and named it “4X6 Horizonal”.  I then repeated the process for a 4X6 vertical, 8X10 horizonal and vertical and then finally as a 16X9.  Many of my photography team and students will tell you that I am infatuated in recent years by the 16X9 format.   While I am not sure it is the strongest cropping option on this specific image, I like the long shape of this format and it is basically the aspect ratio of most computer monitors and big screen TV’s making it a great choice if you want to use the image as a desktop background.

Finally, it is most effective to see these different crops next to each other so I used ACDSee software to create a photo collage with a black background and the size label under each photo.  If you wish to put your 6 or so photos (cropped differently) on the same background paper and do not know how too, feel free to email me your 6 labeled photos and I will be happy to mock them up and send you back the collage.    Furthermore, if it is OK, I would love to share a couple of our students examples on our Facebook page for others to see as well.

Today's Photo Minute

Depth of Field – Chess Board

Today we are starting a new daily series where we will put out a photography concept that should not only be educational but also encourage you to maybe pick up the camera and practice on your own. This is our first step in not only staying connected with our students but more importantly, in encouraging all of us to use photography as a much needed outlet during these challenging times. What a great opportunity to grow in our skills.

The Concept:
Our concept for today is one of my favorites, depth of field. We often define depth of field as the amount of focus in the photo from foreground to background. In other words, is the subject focused and the background blurry (shallow depth of field), or is the subject focused as well as the background (lots of depth of field). Depth of field is mainly controlled by the aperture, also known as the F-stop setting of our cameras. The higher the F-stop = more depth of field, the lower F-stop = less depth of field. To me, this is the most creative control a photographer has as changing the depth of field, can totally change the look or the message of the photo.

Since it is not the best day to be outside in Charlotte, I decided to do a series of images at different apertures of the same subject. My daughter’s chess board made a great test subject (and an opportunity to spend some time playing a game with her later). While this exercise can be done with almost any subject either outside or inside, it is better to find something that you an get a couple feet away from (rather than across the yard, etc.). This will allow you to really see the effect we are going for (more about how depth of field is affected by camera to subject distance at a later date). Since there is not much light inside, it is best to do this with the camera on a tripod so that you do not get blur from camera shake, especially when you start going up on the aperture. Focus your camera lens not on the closest part of the subject and not the furthest but abount ½ of the way. In A or AV mode (aperture priority) I started at my lowest aperture on the lens I was using (F4) and took my first photo. Then, in I adjusted the aperture 3 clicks each time going up to F5.6 for the 2nd shot, F8 for the 3rd shot and on. You can see that by the time I got to the highest aperture of F22, almost the whole board was in focus.
Even for a seasoned photographer, this is a great exercise to do because the reality is that sometimes the effect you want is not the highest or lowest but somewhere in between. Without doing a variety of apertures in the same situation, you might miss the ideal shot and not realize it later until you get back to your computer.

I encourage everyone to give this exercise a try and even feel free to post your favorite image as a reply to this Facebook post. Finally, keep checking in each day for another Photo Minute idea. Invite your friends to follow as well!

Depth of Field Exercise Example

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