Week 21 - Choose the framing format for dynamic effect

One of the first compositional decisions we make is often an overlooked one. You know that we begin the shooting process by deciding where to put the frame, but are you deliberate about what kind of frame you select?

For years, a standard frame format was the horizontal 3:2. Makes sense. The horizontal format is the easiest way to hold most cameras. Also, it keeps the same format of the 35 mm negative, which is 36mm x 24 mm.

Here is the Annapolis Harbor in a standard format - 4x6 horizontal. It is the size and format most viewers expect. It's a safe choice but not always the most creative.

As you develop your eye and choose the frame more deliberately, you’ll consider different options as you shoot. 

Since digital images make it so easy to crop after the fact, we can consider the 5x7, 4x5 (the 8x10) or even the 16x9 (HD video format). Many of these decisions we can make as we edit, but while we are shooting, we can still decide on horizontal vs. portrait.

Here is the Korean War Memorial opened up to a 5x7 horizontal format.

Photographing the same scene in 5x7 portrait mode, allows us to focus on just one of the faces.

The easy way to make that call is to follow the dimensions of your subject. Vertical subject? Flip the camera to portrait position. Horizontal subject? Keep the camera in the same format.

I think it's more fun to do the opposite sometimes - take horizontal subjects in portrait mode and vice versa.

The Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool can be tempting in portrait mode, but sometimes it's fun to experiment with horizontal. This is in 16x9 for effect.

The Challenge

This week let’s try different approaches. Take the same scene and shoot it in different formats -- horizontal and portrait. Experiment with different crop sizes, too. Share your favorites and tell us what influenced your decision. Be deliberate and think about these decisions before you shoot, not just after.


Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.