Image format (or aspect ratio) in composition

Composition is a fundamental aspect of photography, which is however very little taught, or very badly. For me, the thing to start with in composition is frame size, or aspect ratio.

Hello everyone, here Laurent for Learn Photography and today I would like to talk to you about the importance of the image format when you compose a photo.

So no, I’m not talking about digital file formats like RAW, TIFF or JPG, but about the aspect ratio of the image like the square you currently see around me. In other words, it’s the height to length ratio of your photo, so for the square it’s easy, it’s 1.

Now this ratio has changed to 3/2 horizontal for example, and I have a little more room on the sides.

You also have the 4/3 format, even a little shorter. In short I will stop playing games I think you have understood. Composition is exclusively associated with the rule of thirds, and the concepts of visual mass and balance of elements.

But the thing is, our famous aspect ratio also plays a fundamental role in the composition of your photos. It is a choice that can strengthen or on the contrary weaken the intention of a photo.

The idea of ​​this article is not to give you oversimplified rules of the type “for a landscape, use 16/9 in horizontal”, because you know it well that in photography, as in all arts, it doesn’t work like that.

We want to help you stop being limited to the default aspect ratio of your device. And choose voluntarily, in full awareness, the format most consistent with your intention.

Before developing more, I remind you that the aspect ratio is simply the height to length ratio of your photo. A 3/2 format, for example, is a format that can measure 30 cm by 20 cm or 60 cm by 30 cm, you get the idea.

I think most of you already know this, but the original aspect ratio of your photos is determined by the size of your camera’s sensor.

Basically, you have three families of common formats  :

• The Full Frame and APS-C sensors that equip SLRs and a good part of hybrids. They are 3/2 format.
• The micro 4/3 sensors of the Panasonic and Olympus hybrids which are of format… 4/3, as their name suggests.
• The small sensors of bridges and compacts which are also generally 4/3 sensors. And those of your smartphone too, for that matter.

But there are other classic formats, sometimes linked to cinematography. For example, the square format or the 4/5 or even the 16/9 correspond better to the formats of our screens.

The good news is that you can use this original native aspect ratio offered by your device, you can crop when shooting on a lot of devices.

So obviously, on an SLR, as the viewfinder is optical, you can only do it in live view, it’s logical: your viewfinder will not magically change format.

On the other hand, on a hybrid, you can also crop when shooting from the viewfinder. Since your electronic viewfinder is just a second screen, so it’s easy to add or remove black bands.

So yes, it’s true, it is also possible to crop your photos in post-processing without any problem, in a few clicks in Lightroom or other equivalent software. No problem with that, it’s not “evil”.

But I really advise you to do as much as possible the choice of framing when shooting. Quite simply, because it will be much easier to adjust your composition with a real-time aspect ratio preview!

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