Seeing the world in 16:9

I’ve been going through all my digital photos and cropping them to 16:9. What started as a routine task is now a mission.

I have about 400 still photos from the shooting of My Shanghai, taken with my Canon T3i and Joan & Ron’s Nikon. Most are for our general amusement, but some could be used in the press kit and the best ones may go into the film itself. All of them are formatted in the classic 3:2 aspect ratio — the shape of the rectangle, three units wide by two units tall — which has been the standard for still photography since the dawn of 35mm time. Suddenly it looks so boxy.

We — I mean the global we — watch the world today in 16:9. This is the format used for TVs, computer monitors, YouTube and DVDs (get ’em while they last). If you’re interested in the geometry of it all, check out a couple of good articles on Wikipedia on 16:9 and aspect ratios.

I’m more interested in what it does for your pictures. Up to now, all my cropping has been chopping. Chop this, chop that, all in the name of art. Who cares what the final size ends up? I’m not likely to print them.

But when you click the box to constrain the crop tool to 16:9, something happens. I won’t say it turns a terrible shot into a great one, but something happens to good shots to make them better.

Here’s an original 3:2 photo of Virginia crossing her daughter Ginny’s garden.

Photo by Joan Macbeth © 2012 First Straw Films

Joan, my multitasking co-writer/associate producer, framed it nicely. It’s focused, full of color and appeal. To my eye, though, Virginia is somewhat lost in the spectacle.

Now look at it in 16:9.

Photo by Joan Macbeth © 2012 First Straw Films

The bright sky is gone, the curve of the flower bed is shortened, and Virginia commands more of our attention. She moves across the garden as a more dynamic figure. I would even enhance this by zooming in a little, if only to get rid of the neighbor’s blue tarps in the upper right.

Try this with your own photos. The easy ones will benefit from losing extraneous sky and ground. Don’t worry about cutting off heads or shoulders; many of us would benefit from a haircut and a little body work. The trickiest will be your vertical shots, but do it anyway; you’ll find the most interesting details.

You may also find out what you’re missing. My mission the last couple of days has been to comb the archives for pictures of my cat, Tang. He succumbed to kidney failure over the weekend and I’m suddenly without him. I’m glad to have a few good pictures, saved now in 16:9.

I still see Tang going out the kitchen door. He still moves across my garden.


May 24, 2003 – July 14, 2012

© 2012 First Straw Films • All Rights Reserved

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