Thirty-five millimeter film had an aspect ratio of 13.5 to 9. The world was seen through a 3:2 view port, 36 glimpses per roll.
1997 brought me a Sony digital camera shooting only at an 12:9 ratio, perhaps better known as 4:3. Two decades of the slightly wider 35 mm film ratio left the resulting photos feeling horizontally clipped. Where the horizontal dimension was held constant, as in a blog, the image felt disproportionately tall.
When the wearable digital cameras I had come to prefer offered 16:9 ratio images in camera, I shifted to the format immediately. I understood that the 16:9 ratio was actually just a cropping of 12:9 on some of these cameras. I was actually throwing away image on the camera’s CCD sensor.
Over the years, however, I had shifted away from editing photos and moved towards ensuring that what was in the view frame was what I wanted in the final image. I wanted to see the 16:9 frame, and the lost pixels were meaningless when my target destination was social media. Nothing throws away more pixels than social media.
Computer monitors were also catching up with my camera preference, with 16:9 monitors becoming a default ratio. During the summer of 2017 I came to realize that in a classroom where students were accessing an online textbook, using an online graphing calculator, and simultaneously completing assignments in an online learning management system, the students needed a 21:9 monitor.
Short of switching to a panorama mode or cropping in editing software, 21:9 is not available in the wearable cameras I prefer to tote around. For me a camera has to be able to be strapped to my body for a seven mile run or a three mile joggle. My photography is of some instant that I find myself in, some now; unplanned, unprepared.
My vague awareness of the use of ratio, and preference for particular ratios, caused to me to sit up and take notice that the videographer for a recent video was shooting in 24:9, a ratio I had not seen used this way before. The effect was interesting, creating an almost pseudo-panoramic look to the video. There were shots where the videographer was almost trying too hard to use the 24:9 format.
The four cameras set up left and right almost seems to be a deliberate desire to fill the frame, as if an attempt to justify the extreme letterbox choice.
Shooting at 24 x 9 would be interesting if available in camera. One can get close by clipping off a panorama, many of which go well beyond the 24 x 9 ratio. Human vision feels to the user to have a wider span horizontally than vertically. This makes sense for a terrestrial animal for whom most threats were in the horizontal plane. While there is no fixed human eye aspect ratio, functionally human vision is somewhere between 1.5:1 and perhaps 2:1. This puts everything from 13.5:9 to 18:9 in the sweet spot for mimicking human vision.
The 29 x 9 image above cannot actually be seen as one has to turn one’s head to take in everything from the Terminalia catappa on the extreme left to the sign in front of the A building (off-camera) on the extreme right.
Even more extreme is this 33 x 9 aspect ratio image that spans nearly 180°. Both of the panoramas distort the reality available to the human eye. Even the 24 x 9 ratio leaves the viewer with a sense of a clipped vision up and down, but then perhaps that was part of the director of photography’s vision for the video. A sense of being vertically trapped, hence in the video the escape from the prison was up a ladder into the sunshine.
Someday perhaps the bulk of images will be viewed in virtual reality equipment that will provide a full spherical image virtually surrounding the viewer. One will be able to look in any direction from the location of the image capture. In that age aspect ratio will no longer have a meaning. Until then, photographers will get to choose the ratio of the frame for their images.
Share what you are seeing with those you know who would also want to see what you are seeing.