February 22nd, 2008


On flickr

Or maybe not. I'm actually going to be talking about composition. There will be "photo jargon" which I'll offset in quotation marks.

Looking around flickr I, at least, am struck by the previews. For those who don't know, flickr has thumbnails of the pictures one posts. Members photostreams show the entire image. Sets, however, are given a different sort of thumbnail.

A square ones ( e.g. Galapagos).

Which is interesting. Most photographers don't work well in square. We tend to start in 35 (or these days, digital). We look at old prints from 4x5, and 8x10. The square formats (2 1/4, 6x6, 6x7) are harder to get a handle on. Grab an introductory photo text (I'll wait). Look at the chapter on composition, it will discuss the "rule of thirds" and the "points of interest" (which are the four corners of the center square, if one makes nine equal boxes... and yes, I know that's a convolute way to describe it, bear with me). hal_obrien has an example of this in his portrait of Art Widener. Art's eye is in the upper right, "point of interest," and he's looking into the image.

This is considered canonically "strong" composition.

It's a good photo, and that aspsect of the composition is strong. The negaive space across the ceneter of the image makes one feel one is sitting across from the subject, which makes one examine him, as though he were actually threre (and it's one of hal_obrien's strengths as a photographer. His portraits engage the viewer, "drawing them into" the picture.

I break this rule, a lot. Maia's mother hates centered point of interest photography, and one of her more frequent critiques of my shots is, "the subject's in the middle."

Now, if oe looks at those pictures, the center of interest isn't plugged right in the middle like a bullseye, but it's not running around the edge of the middle third.

But the loss of the 1:1.5 aspect ratio of the 35mm format (and the 1:1.25 ratio of the larger formats) means the shooter has to deal with what feels a constrained area of work. Which leads to an abuse of the format.

What do I mean by abuse?

I mean that the photographer often includes a lot of extra space, so they will have room to crop the image to a more rectangular format. They get the advantage of the large negative (unless they have a lot of money to get a digital back for their 2 1/4... for my Hassleblad that's about $8,000 US) and the more forgiving enlargements.

But the format itself is interesting. Spanish Flower 2, Gleisarbeiter and Randy's Donuts.

A lot of my bird shots are shot rectangular, and then cropped square.

Which brings me to the beginning again.

Flickr crops sets to sq. thumbnails (and my flickr icon is such a squaring of a rectangle). It does so by grabbing the center of the image. What amuses me is that so many of the crops are decently built square format image.

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