Pixoom Photographie – Title Unknown (2015)
If you’ve followed this blog for any time, you are most likely painfully aware of my aversion to portrait orientation in lens based image making.
I refer to it–with profound contempt–as #skinnyframebullshit.
It’s a term I use a lot and I’m always linking to the same article I wrote more than two years ago. So–with the notion in mind that someone seeking to determine counterfeit from legitimate currency always studies the real item instead of the fake–it occurred to me that being as this image is not only stunningly gorgeous but also in no way shape or form #skinnyframebullshit, that it might be time for me to create a positive reference instead of a negative one.
It’s maybe not the best place to start but one of the things that doesn’t directly relate to my hatred for portrait orientation but does inform it is the increasing ubiquity of digital imaging technology. (Again, if you’ve followed me for any time you’ll know that I am obsessively anal about differentiating between digital and analog processes. Yes, they are built off the same chassis but their respective functions are vastly different in practice.)
By now, you all are familiar with shitty Youtube videos wherein due to the shape of and interface of our smart phones you get a preponderance of video with vertical frames. It’s ugly, sloppy and I would maintain a poor reflection of the author’s basic intelligence.
I’ve been pretty active in Internet photo communities since 2006. Back then, folks making work were basing it off the history of lens based image making up to that point. Yeah, you had vertical oriented images but whether or not there was a reason for them to be vertical (i.e. an internally consistent compositional logic) they were the distinct minority.
Of that minority, a plurality featured this sort of self-conscious flipping the physical camera body on its side makes me look more like a photographer. When you do it, you feel a little rebellious.
Now, if you’re a person shooting on film, then you drop what you shot at your lab (or better yet, process yourself); and then you pop your slides or negs down on a light table and have a look-see. The thing you note immediately is that your vertically oriented frames break the flow of your reading your slides. You end up having to flip the filmstrip, contact sheets or whatever. Invariably, this causes you to favor either the landscape or portrait images due to the fact that it’s easier to read images that are in line with however you have the page currently oriented.
I learned quickly that there really needs to be a compelling reason for a shot to be vertically oriented. And with my reluctance to deal with vertical oriented shots, I realized that almost categorically, image makers opt for vertical orientation as a compositional shortcut. Like: oh, hey…what I want to shoot won’t fit this way, I’ll just flip the camera and that’ll fix it. Makes sense. Except one small thing and I’ll state it as a truism–you will always get a better shot by moving your body in relationship to the object or by using a different focal length lens. It’s just a fact.
And if you apply that to the history of photography, it’s interesting to note that most images with vertical orientation are–wouldn’t you know it–within the architectural genre. Why might that be? Well, in relationship to an edifice there are few options with regard to moving in order to achieve the framing you want.
Thus, I maintain rather rigidly that in general, if you aren’t shooting architecture, you can go ahead and shoot that vertical but then maybe move around and shoot the same thing landscape from different positions. I’m confident that all things being equal, you’re going to find you prefer the landscape frames.
One of the first things a beginning photography student hears about is the sacred rule of thirds. As a rule of thumb, it serves–and ensures photography instructors cut down substantially on the godawful wawker-jawed, indecipherable images. But like any rule, it’s nothing more than a general guideline that you really have to understand before you’re allowed to start ignoring it as you please.
Yes, the rule of thirds is an abstraction of the Golden Ratio. And with the tendency to frame the subject at one vertical third line and then leave a great deal of negative space to the left or the right, it does produce appealing images. (Note: how images that are perfectly balanced within the framework of the rule of thirds tend to have the effect of leaving you confused about what you’re supposed to be looking at.)
My theory is that with vertical compositions, the rule of thirds is less useful as a guideline; the expectation of the eye is something more in-line with the golden ratio.
There is only one horizontal line in the above image–dividing the frame top-to-bottom roughly 60/40. Katjuschenka is ever so slightly off-center (consider the mid-line of her face)–balanced expertly by her right knee opening what would’ve otherwise been a repetition of the angle of her arms.
There’s essentially only two colors in the frame–red (hair, skin tone) and blue. Everything falls in line with those tonal hues. Focus is sharpest on her eyes. (And as a dizzying bonus, check out the texture in her stockings. Dayum.)
A creepier photographer would’ve focused on the nipple or at least increased the depth of field so that it would remain in focus. But the decision to do that makes this image about the color and framing. The eye contact is neither coy nor pouting. It’s not flirtatious but it does convey a sense of knowing a great deal that the viewer does not.
This image is breathtakingly exquisite. If you’ve got to go vertical, this is the baseline. Either make it clear that the composition was the only thing that would’ve communicated the magic of that moment or go home with your weak ass #skinnyframebullshit.