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.
My son was exploring in a family basement and came across the cabinets of 35 mm photographic slides therein.
35 mm slide projectors are only available as used items these days. There really is no practical way to preserve these thousands of family slides and carry the images forward into the future. These are not paintings of yore that hung on a wall, these are creations of technology that lived and died by the sword of technology.
Among the slides are slivers of my own past.
My sister and I, photographed in September 1963, processed in October 1963, just a month before the nation would lose John F. Kennedy. The hands holding the photo – the son of the boy in the picture.
I think about images and photographs mostly in the frame of family history – how to pass down the family photos. I have no idea how long Google or FaceBook will be around. CompuServe came and went in its time, as did GeoCities. Each time I moved photos to the next available platform.
And even on Google and FaceBook there is the issue of access into the future. I can “friend” my currently living children, but how to pass along permissions to descendants in perpetuity? Short of setting everything to public sharing? Perhaps future descendants will not care to see images of the ancestors.
As for the slides, they are most likely to continue to remain in the darkness of their cases for the foreseeable future.
I am a spectator paparazzi. That is, I take pictures of those who watch the stars. In the past the audience was an anonymous mass, and certainly the modern mega-paid mega-star is built on the wallets of those anonymous millions who watch. One went to see the stars play and did not expect to be seen, possibly did not want to be seen. The social media generation is different. They want to see the action, the game, the stars, but they also want to know who they know who was there watching the action. Which of my friends was at the game? Were they styling? Who was jumping up, dancing, singing, and shouting?
I go to the games to take pictures of both the action and the spectators. I may ask for permission, explicitly or implicitly. The latter happens when I point my lens at a duo, trio, or more often a quad and they immediately smile, pose, and throw shaka and peace symbols.
The pictures are not for me. They are for their friends and family abroad. Children who long to see their mother, fathers who have not seen their son in a long time, friends who want to see another friend’s face. A phone call lets them hear their voice, but mom and dad are always, “We’re fine,” whether or not they are actually fine. A photograph is reassuring – seeing dad is a little older but still looks strong is reassuring to a son or daughter working overseas.
In the past I had, at most, thirty-six 35 millimeter film shots to work with. I rarely had spare film or budget to take more than thirty-six images. In late 1997 I acquired a Sony digital camera that permitted my first experimentation with the world of digital photography. The camera I carry today can store up to 17000 photographs at the resolutions I work at. I can simply shoot continuously, or at least until both of my batteries are dead.
The medium by which photographs are shared has changed as well. Newspaper articles might include a single image. A photographer had to catch the single most iconic instant for that news story. Magazines might feature a spread of ten to twelve photos for an article. A photographic team might take hundreds of photos, sometimes thousands, culling through the images for the ten or twelve really magical images. For every jaw-dropping gorgeous National Geographic magazine photo there were a thousand images discarded.
The limits on image distribution and sharing have changed radically. FaceBook albums hold 200 images, all uploaded at no financial cost to the photographer. Today’s viewer of photographs does not want a single iconic image. They want an album of 200 photos they can scream through on their broad band connection, stopping and pausing only at that which catches their attention. And not just a single album. Multiple albums.
I oblige the modern desire for a flood of images, providing “firehose” coverage to the extent that I can. I do not select images and the only editing I do is to delete blurry or inappropriate images. The rest get posted on line. No cropping, nothing. Raw feed, the more images the better. And yet some viewers have written saying, “More please!” This is also a characteristic of the social media generation. Sensory overload is not possible for a generation raised on iPads and xBoxes, a generation accustomed to being always on and connected.
Generation social media wants images of the event, those at the event, and lots of images. This is the brave new world of media.
Not only the off-islanders want more images, a local friend noted the same paucity of images. There are teams of photographers working the games, but the photo galleries appearing on line on sites covering the games often mimic a magazine. Articles include a single image. Photo galleries are nine to ten selected images. None of these teams is operating in the “shoot everything, post everything” mode, nor can they. One team of photographers is a youth media team who are being taught to capture iconic images, to select images, to be shooters and editors. Images are cropped and rebalanced to shine after the fact. The firehose photographer has to crop the image before they shoot. Whatever is in the frame at the time of the photo stays in the frame.
There are other differences. The newspaper and magazine photographer expects and deserves credit, if not also remuneration, for their images. For the professional, photography is part of their professional life. The pro gun usually includes a signature watermark in the image. One photographer in these games puts their watermark across the middle of the image as if their name is the star of the image. Spectator paparazzi may be relatively unknown, and if known, they are typically not known for being photographers. They may lack any photographic skills. They shoot everything and often post everything, including really blurry shots from low end cell phone cameras.
When I shot one image of a volunteer and her friend, her friend told me to be sure the image gets put on FaceBook. The volunteer turned to the friend with a puzzled look. The friend explained that I was the guy putting up all those albums from the games. She seemed incredulous, she found it hard to believe the images were being taken by me. She knew of me, but had no idea I was the one taking the images.
I post my images in albums with the privacy set to public – in other words, no privacy. This allows my 2500 plus friends and acquaintances to freely share my albums with their friends, and thence on to third and fourth connections. The albums do not expire at the periphery of my friends or friends of friends. No restrictions. Images get downloaded and then re-uploaded by others, and this makes me happy. I do not own my images. If anyone owns the image, the owners are the people in the image. I only captured some photons of light in transit at a particular instant in time. I own nothing more than the camera.
Another difference is that for the professional images are art, to be seen and appreciated but not necessarily not interacted with. Most professional, corporate, and institutional photographers post photos with tagging disabled. There are often legal reasons for disabling tagging. The spectator paparazzi is all about tagging and connecting. Social connectivity and interactivity are primary goals of the social media photographer. If a tree falls in an empty forest it makes no sound, if a photograph has no tags and comments then the photograph fails to exist in a social sense. The more tags and comments, the better the photograph, regardless of whether the photograph is artistically worthy or not. An exquisite photograph with no comments, no tags, and no shares, is a social media failure. A crummy, blurry, unbalanced shot with a plethora of comments, tags, and multiple shares is a success. Photo quality is irrelevant, photo connectivity is everything for the social media photographer.
Not only is tagging allowed and actively encouraged, but the social media photographer befriends all comers. The judicious use of groups such as acquaintances, close friends, family, and other groups helps keep the social media photographer’s wall from being swamped by information of no meaning or use.
I also know that if anyone points a camera at me, I have to strike a pose, look my best. I cannot hide behind my lens. I am fair game in the spectator paparazzi photo firefights. I also always try to photograph the photographers when I can. To make a sweeping over-generalization, sports photographers are usually so focused getting the action picture that they are rather oblivious to everything else around them that is not action, including, and maybe especially, other photographers. They have to be focused to get the iconic shot on goal, the moment at which the game was won.
There may be a difference in equipment. Using a long telephoto lens on a single lens reflex photographic body to take what are essentially portrait pictures is intimidating up close, creepy when done at extreme range. The little point and shoot I use requires that I get up close and personal to get a good FaceBook tag worthy photo. I cannot get the stop action photo of the critical moment in the game. The distances are typically too great.
I have one other asset that is useful, at least here on Pohnpei. My face. Having lived here for 22 years and having taught over 3000 some students I am fairly widely recognized and known. In almost any crowd I will know someone. I am an elder in a society that respects elders, a member of the community. My children were born and raised in Pohnpei and Kosrae. People know me and many know that I post photos to FaceBook, sometimes people ask to be photographed. Other times I know relatives abroad who enjoy pictures of a particular person and so I know who the photo will have to be shared to. And some, seeing me coming, hide like a rock star avoiding publicity. Athletes have to expect to be photographed when in action, the spectators have no such expectation. When an event is open to the public, free of entry charge, and held in a public facility, personal photographic privacy may be violated even if inadvertently.
I use the word paparazzi in part to reflect the gray areas in which I sometimes operate. A granddaughter in North Carolina might ask, “If you get a chance, take a picture of my grandfather.” Now I may know that grandpa would prefer not to be photographed if given a choice. Yet he is present at a kamadipw at which I am taking pictures. Do I avoid shots in which he is present or get the granddaughter a picture that makes her happy? Add in that grandpa does not use FaceBook and the granddaughter does – so if I snag a shot with him in the frame, he will not realize he was photographed and shared via FaceBook. Who’s desire for happiness trumps? By Pohnpei rules the elder, but wherein he is unaware there seems to be less harm done by getting the granddaughter the image she so desires.
Eight days has produced eight albums and just over 1500 images, none of them worthy of “publishing,” all of them “published” on social media. Tag, like, and comment rates push upwards of a hundred an hour. This is the new media order in social media – quantity over quality. Photos of everyone and everything. Viewed and forgotten in the same instant, as ephemeral as a conversation and yet important to feeling connected for those who view them.
There will certainly long be a role for the professional photographer and the work that they do. I argue only that there is a new genre of photographers who play by different rules for different goals, differences made possible by social media. Maybe call it koinonikophotography, although anthrophotography rolls off the tongue better.
If you see me roaming an event, either strike a smile and a pose to let me know you are open to being photographed, or duck, cover, and run to avoid being caught on digital by a spectator paparazzi.