Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The discipline of composing full frame

Full frame landscape composition. This rocky arch can be found in Perranporth in Cornwall.

There's an aesthetic discipline in photography which has all but dropped off the radar these days. It's to make your composition in camera using the full available frame and keep that through to the final print without any cropping.

Photographers advocating this discipline often proudly printed their shots in the darkroom with a thin black border, or even the film rebate visible in the print to show that their composition utilised the full frame and negative without any cropping. These days with the digital darkroom to hand most photographers crop their images. It's so easy to do.

One of the reasons for using the full frame is to preserve quality. The more you enlarge a negative in the darkroom the more the quality suffers. The rule also applies to digital photography. Your camera may have 10mp but if you crop a small part out of it you could be left with a 1, 2 or maybe 3 mp image, which will not hold up quality wise when enlarged.

Besides the quality issues surrounding severe cropping there is also the discipline of composing the shot there and then without having to crop later. It does give one a tremendous feeling of satisfaction to get it all right in the camera first time, well at least for me it does. I think it is an excellent way to train your eye. And you get the benefit of using every pixel your camera is capable of delivering.

I'm not against cropping. I do it all the time but I do try to always make the best use possible of the full frame. When it comes to professional work it's a different ball game altogether. You often have to compose very precisely to fit within a certain format, for example a magazine cover, spread, or the proportions of an advert (with the added complication of leaving uncluttered, evenly coloured areas for the text the designers will want to add.) But that's a different blog.

If I do crop then it will be the longest side of the frame. Cropping both the longest and shortest sides of the frame is in my book almost sacrilege and to be avoided at all costs. However you want to approach it; from the point of view of exercising a discipline on your photographic eye, or to ensure maximum quality - getting it right in the viewfinder does give a great sense of satisfaction.

There are many examples of master photographers who composed and printed full frame. Probably the most famous is Henri Cartier Bresson, but a little research on your part will reveal many more full frame master photographers than you perhaps thought.

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