Points in Focus Photography

Something to Think About; Print Size, Resolution, and their effects on Composition


Forgive me for a moment, I’m going to ramble for a moment about a realization I just had that may be worth thinking about. So here I go…

I’ve long approached my photography in terms of designing an image, perhaps sometimes to the detriment of actually pressing the button and getting an image. Regardless though, what this really means is that I spend a lot of time looking at images, both mine and those taken by other photographers, and trying to figure out what not only makes them tick, but sometimes the thinking that went into getting there. A friend of mine once called this theoretical photography; maybe I shouldn’t, but I like the description.

Which brings me to the theoretical photography moment I want to talk about; how the intended, or at least most common end result can subtly influence the way you actually compose your images—or at least how it affects me.

The impetus of this was this was watching the IMAX movie Blue Planet on the tiny display of my iPad. Having been originally intended to fill a 60 by 80 foot canvas, the composition of the shots was inherently loose. What I mean is, for example, a lioness and her cubs would be bigger than life sized even if they were only say maybe a 1/4 of the frame tall. However, on a tiny display, what amounts to a tiny print, the lioness is little more than an tiny smudge—okay it’s not really that bad.

But that got me thinking about my own work. Most of which is destined, due to printer and camera resolution constraints to be small images, either as a print smaller than say 20×30 or as an image on the web or a computer display. As a result of this, and my increasingly dated 10 MP gear, I find that I heavily bias my own compositions and subject matter in at least two ways.

First, I dramatically favor tight compositions. Not only do they tend to clean up backgrounds, which I think in some ways is a crutch, but they put the most pixels on the subject as possible. Moreover, I’ll take this to the point of doing panos/stitches of things that probably don’t really need to be 100+ MP images, just because to get what I consider acceptable detail and wide angle images.

The second aspect of this is that I tend to also look for and favor images that are more color and geometrical in nature, as opposed to things that rely on being able to resolve detail. So things like twilight light, or the way the atmosphere will affect the color and density of successive tree or ridge lines.

Of course, I would also argue that identifying when you subconsciously do things is the first and most necessary step to addressing those things. Which is really why I’m writing this, no so much to opine on my own flaws, but to perhaps draw light to the need to step back and look at how you may be unexpectedly biasing your own work. I know I probably would have never paid any attention to it, had I not had the right combination of content targeted at immersion and a tiny rendition to notice that even though I try to insure that my gear isn’t dictating my vision, more often than not it really is.

Which brings me to the realization I had the other day. The resolution and format you shoot in and the presentation you’ll be making have and incredibly profound influence on how you compose images to start with.

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