Choosing the Right Frame Format
most cameras today, a shape like this, which means they're most comfortable in the hand when held like this. This also makes sense because on the whole, visually we observe the world horizontally from left to right like this. And so by far the large majority of photographs are framed like this. I learned about the importance of consciously considering frame format when I first started trying to sell my work to magazines, researching potential clients in my local newsagent. It struck me that every single magazine cover is vertical. So if I ever wanted to get an image on the cover of a magazine, which of course I did. Then I had to start shooting in the right orientation. One of the first things I look at when I'm composing an image is the shape of the main subject, and I generally match the frame format to the shape. Let's take trees as an example, a single tree trunk is a vertical rectangle, which matches a vertical frame orientation. A clump of trees, on the other hand, more closely m...
atches a horizontal rectangle than so better fits horizontal framing. Now this is a very simplistic view, but it's a great starting point. I also consider the direction of perceived travel and how my framing will influence how a viewer's eye moves between points in the frame in the horizontal format and images read left to right in the vertical format from bottom to top. So I would say, an animal moving across the cameras line of sight. The perception of motion is emphasised when horizontal framing is applied. However, if the animal is heading straight towards the camera, forward motion is emphasised with vertical framing. Design elements like lines might also influence my choice. An obvious example is a horizon, which is a horizontal line and so generally speaking suits horizontal format. On the other hand, the ship's mast is a vertical line and so best fits a vertical frame. Diagonal lines are more interesting, and the most appropriate frame format will depend on their angle. Gentle diagonals tend to suit a horizontal frame. Sharp rising diagonals, however, better match of vertical frame now. Often, what's dictating my decision is what format enables me to start and end diagonals in the corners. Now, these are all simplified guidelines that can be expanded upon to create more complex and more dynamic compositions and to show you what I mean. Let's go back to the trees. Imagine I want to tell a sinister story. Let's say I want to create the emotions of tension, foreboding and trepidation, a chilling journey into a dark, unknown future like a hobbit and seven Dwarfs entering Mirkwood in a Tolkien novel. For this story, even though the subject is vertical in shape, I have opted for a horizontal format. Cutting through the trunk slow down to emphasis, depth and close space, which helps create a visual sense of disquiet and claustrophobia, as if the trees are closing in on you. Remember, you were choosing moments in time and putting a frame around them. That frame, then, is an important part of the story and shouldn't be dictated by the design of the camera. The camera is your servant is up to you to tell it what to do. Imagine you're on assignment, shooting the cover of your favorite magazine, study the magazine and the sorts of cover shots they go for. Notice how much space they use for the title and where the taglines are positioned down the side. Now take your camera out and shoot an image in the vertical format in the style of the magazine. You never know. You may even end up selling it to the publisher.