The composition is always the difference between a mediocre picture of a landscape and a better photo of a landscape. There are often-quoted laws that we all strive to stick to and violate in equal measure (third-party law, leading lines, golden spiral, etc but we don’t really care about the frame itself while deciding what we are trying to catch.
A photograph’s aspect ratio will make or break the composition by either highlighting the focus and eliminating obstacles, or by off-balancing the entire scene. In order to optimize the composition, it is a smart idea to try to envisage the final shot, including the aspect ratio, when looking through the viewfinder, about to click the shutter. Very frequently, the aspect ratio is an afterthought, introduced to compensate for bad compositional choices during post-processing.
But how does each aspect ratio of landscape photography affect compositions?
That’s where it fits into this post. I will answer a few common aspect ratios (with examples). For each, I will demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages and describe where each aspect ratio can be added.
Notice that without keeping to a given ratio, there is a case for cropping your photo; in other words, that you can give a picture a custom ratio depending on your subject matter. But it can make it uncomfortable to print and frame, so I will therefore stick to well-defined ratios that most people should be familiar with.
1:1 – Square format
To simplify a picture and give the subject a striking appearance at the center of the frame, the square format will also be used.
The manner in which we read the photograph shifts by keeping the width equal to the height since there is less need to travel around the picture from left to right.
The square shape often provides a nice chance to bend the rules we obey too often; put the horizon in the center of the picture or place a subject in the middle of the frame, and the composition will only get better.
You will also see a 1:1 aspect ratio used again, it is the simplification theme) to highlight minimalism.
The 1:1 aspect ratio of Derwent Water, Lake District, UK was presented in
4:3 – four-thirds format
The default aspect ratio of cameras that use Four-Thirds sensors is this format.
A picture with an aspect ratio of 4:3 is wider than it is tall, meaning that the viewer automatically needs to pass around the image from left to right. Given that the picture is still reasonably wide in comparison to the distance, though this ratio is ideal for pulling the eye along leading lines through the scene.
A 4:3 image’s relative height enables the use of wide-angle focal lengths to capture a scene’s depth, without including excess information at the picture edge.
Presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, lavender field at sunrise
6:4 – 35mm format (also called 3:2)
This is the normal 35mm film aspect ratio, which is also used in most Nikon and Canon cameras with full-frame and APS-C sensors.
The width is substantially wider than the height, with a 6:4 picture. This allows the picture to be seen from left to right, which ensures that diagonal leading lines will function very well.
A drawback of this aspect ratio is that in contrast to distance, the height is too much shorter. So because of the small vertical space you can deal in, it becomes more difficult to catch foreground imagery using a wide-angle lens. A 6:4 aspect ratio may also cause the subjects to become too diverse within the frame and thus lose effect.
However the 6:4 ratio may be suitable for capturing scenes where there is little to no interest in the foreground, especially if you use midrange focal lengths (e.g., 35mm).
Presented in a 6:4 aspect ratio, Rain over Lake Como
16:9 – Widescreen panoramic
The Advanced Picture System (APS) embraced the widescreen panoramic format in film upon its launch, which has increasingly become more popular due to the proliferation of 16:9 aspect ratio displays on TVs, computer monitors, and handheld devices in the household.
With this style, the image’s width is dominant, so it is impossible to direct the viewer from the foreground.
The style, though is best suited for showing parts of landscape scenes shot from a distance with longer focal lengths (e.g. zoom lenses).
Abstraction from the beach shown in a 16:9 format
12:6 or 18:6 – Panoramic (also called 2:1 or 3:1)
For a few factors, I have preferred to use 12:6 or 18:6 as the panoramic format here.
Second, both 2:1 and 3:1 appear to be reasonably well supported in that either 2:1 or 3:1 are usually panoramic photo frame alternatives. 2:1 is a panoramic standard supported by a variety of video cameras in medium format, and 3:1 is supported by the APS.
Usually, to display the product of stitching two or more images together, panoramic ratios are used; it is very impossible to record a 3:1 aspect ratio image in one frame and then be able to print at any significant scale.
In order to choose distant features in the landscape, frames to be stitched would also be shot with a longer focal length. There is no real chance here of including foreground information.
Chalkfields, viewed in a 3:1 aspect ratio at sunrise
I am conscious that in “landscape” mode, and not in “portrait” format, I’ve addressed a variety of different aspect ratios.
But that’s because I think there are far fewer opportunities for the good portrayal of landscapes in the “portrait” style. You need to match the design in the picture for a landscape to work, and aspect ratios such as 6:4 make it very difficult since the picture is too tall compared to its distance.
Fatter rectangles, such as 4:3, 7:6, or 5:4, are suitable for dealing with’ portrait’ landscapes. In fact, 5:4 is heavily used by medium and large format cameras by professional landscape photographers. This aspect ratio allows the eye to be taken from left to right across the shot, without knocking the picture off-balance with an excess amount of sky.
In three separate portrait formats, Bwlch Y Groes, Wales, UK, presented
I am conscious that not all scenes can follow the recommendations I have made, but I have attempted to explain particular applications of such aspect ratios. For a certain ratio that is contradictory to what I’ve proposed, certain photos could fit well.
I’m hoping, though this introduction to aspect ratios would inspire you to think about them before pressing the shutter while composing your shot. Filling the picture with the scenery in front of you isn’t necessarily perfect.
And understanding that the aspect ratio you select is not determined by the camera you use suggests that you can easily use aspect ratios to maximize the impact of your landscape images.