Week 2: Aspect Ratio, Framing, & the Rule of Thirds

It’s time for the Week 2 update of my photographic adventure!  This time around, I wasn’t quite as ambitious and took fewer pictures, but being home last week inspired me to go overboard for Week 1!  (Fun fact I learned over break: Michael Miley, the first photographer to develop a colour photography technique, lived near my house! So cool!)

Miley’s equipment on display at the Rockbridge Historical Society.

This week I researched aspect ratio (which was reiterated in Thursday’s video lecture) and experimented with different types of photographic frames. All of the images featured in this post, as well as the original versions for comparison, are posted in my Week 2 set. I’d like to mention that there’re a few new additions to my Trial & Error set.

I looked to Paul Comon’s advice for information about aspect ratio and framing photographs.

In terms of aspect ratio, Comon’s main advice is “The camera format and finished print format must agree in terms of aspect ratio.”   If the print format and aspect ratio don’t agree, cropping might be required or some of the frame will be left unfilled during printing. In general, I’d say aspect ratio (at least for photography, because I think video will be different) was more of an issue prior to the editing luxuries of advanced digital photography software. Digital photography, however, is not entirely removed from the issues of aspect ratio agreement. Comon reminds readers that you must consider what you plan to use the image for to know what aspect ratio will be most effective for your shot.  If, for example, you’ll be cropping a lot of the image away, be sure to leave some margin space in the frame or else some of your subject might be removed in the printing process.

From digicamguides.com:
Original 3:2 image:vs.
8×10 cropped print

Some commonly used aspect ratios:
Wallet size: 2.25 x 3.25
Ablum size: 3.5 x 5 & 4 x 6
Desk & wall hanging: 5 x 7
Wall display: 8 x 10

Furthermore, the LCD screen on your digital camera (even for expensive SLR’s) may not actually align with what you’re trying to photograph.  The only way to correct for this offset is to experiment with your camera’s LCD screen and actual images produced. I thought digicamguides.com (as reference above) was a good resource for aspect ratio examples, particularly since my end products for this week focus more on framing than frame proportions.


The four main types of geometric frames are ovals, circles, squares, and rectangles. To achieve these frames, I had to use Corel Photo Paint to crop my original images to an appropriate shape.

Oval frames are infrequently used in modern photography, but were once commonly used in portrait photography because they focus the viewer’s attention on a central subject. I found that this frame reminds me of vignette effects applied to digital images.


Circular frames, according to Comon, are the most uncommonly used of the four frame shapes because “it takes a masterful artist to create a great image confined to a round frame.” Some of the neatest examples of circular frames, in my opinion, are achieved using fisheye lenses. My circular image of Grey Cat (my neighbors’ willing model!) was created by cropping the subject out of an originally rectangular photo (see my Flickr set).

Circle cat

I reused Grey Cat as my subject for a square frame for comparison. Comon says “If all the vital image elements can be concisely contained in a square without any wasted space in the print area, [square] is the print format of choice.” I personally think the circular frame is more effective for this particular subject because of the cat’s rounded body shape.

Square cat left

Here’s the original rectangular image from which I cropped Grey Cat’s circular and square portraits.  The long dimension of the frame is supposed to “determine the mood and image tone,” whereas “a horizontal format denotes peacefulness, repose, and/or sweeping grandeur” (e.g. in landscape photography).

Grey cat - original


I also wanted to experiment with The Rule of Thirds because, apparently, it’s a fairly elementary photographic technique. Basically, imagine breaking the photographic frame down into nine quadrants. You then align the most important points of your subject with the quadrangles’ central corners, and voilà, you’re using the Rule of Thirds. The technique reminds me of last week’s symmetrical compositions because it seems like a good way to break down complex scenes into more manageable compositions. Because I think it’s a lot easier to picture this concept with an image, here’s a visual:

Square cat grid
Note that the focal point of the image coincides with the intersection of four quadrangles. I’ve also mirrored the original square image because it’s supposed to be more effective to place your subject to the upper right than left because we tend to view images the same way we read text (i.e. left to right).  (What do you think?  I guess the image flipped works better?)

I found a has a nice succinct article at digital-photography-school.com to understand the Rule of Thirds. According to the article, the Rule of Thirds brings balance to a photo and directs the viewer’s attention (“people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points… rather than the center of the shot”.)   Apparently, “using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.” For the most part, I’d say this statement is true, but easier said than done!  Here’re some of the example I came up with:

Thirds - AcornsFocal point: Oak leaf

Thirds - HydrantFocal points: Hydrant & Manicured tree

Thirds - Cat IIFocal point: Cat’s eye


  1. You are doing an absolutely marvelous job on blogging. It is clear that you are putting a lot of time into what you are doing, and that you are learning a lot. Along with you making it so that your readers also are learning! Great Job I can’t wait to learn more!

  2. These posts are great! I really like seeing how you use the techniques in the pictures and how you give an example of how you did it either right after or right before explaining it.

  3. It’s great to read how you are experimenting and documenting your techniques.

    There are some photographers that feel it is best to get the photo perfect in the viewfinder and others who focus more on post production. For instance, with aspect ratio, I cant say when I am composing what size I will be printing on.

    I do a TON of cropping in post, editing the photos. There is a huge amount of creativity in cropping, like changing the emphasis or turning maybe a less well compose photo more interesting by cropping to a detail- or for people, it cam be more interesting to crop a face along the forehead rather than fitting the full head in the frame. I love cropping! I deal with aspect ratios more on this end.

    The Rule of Thirds is great to keep in mind as you compose in the viewfinder. It moves you away from the snapshot syndrome of centering everything, and including too much background.

    But it’s not really a rule, or a law, it is a guide. It can be more fun to break the rule–

    Somethings look more interesting centered. Sometimes a landscape can be interesting by pushing the horizon all the way to the bottom. Or put the subject way down in a corner. Check out this flick group of photos that break the rule http://www.flickr.com/photos/ozlady/galleries/72157623292328920

    Other things to try include moving the camera away form the typical eye hieght. Get down on the ground and take a low angle shot. Or but the camer on the ground and tilt it up at a subject, you can even try guessing the angle. Get up high and get a downward angle. Tilt the camera at a crazy angle.

    Play, play, play.

  4. Lots of helpful information, and such neat photos. My favorites are the acorns, and the last one of the half-cat. Good call in making the eye the focal point!

  5. I really like your first picture and that was really cool that you found out how close he lived to your house. My favorite picture out of these is the cat picture and it’s really neat to see all the things that you can do to one picture.

  6. I read through your entire post before I realized that photography is really complicated and the fact that you are trying to learn about the technical aspect of it is pretty cool. Plus I think you are a natural at it 🙂

  7. I think it’s really interesting that you’re getting very into the technical aspects of photography when most people just learn by trying! I liked the info about the round frames too!

  8. You have a lot of cool pointers that I have not really considered before. And I think cropping is a relevant issue to the majority of people because we crop things without really thinking about things like aspect ratio or the frame of the newly cropped photo.