About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Escaping your Camera's Dictatorial Viewfinder

Compositional Pre-Visualization

Gulf Brook, Chesterfield, NH

The Usual Lame Apology

The holiday season is always a hectic time for photographers. For me this year has been especially challenging. In addition to the usual rush of last minute Christmas orders and the annual  struggle to get my calendar to all the places where it is needed, I have the additional strain of remaking and moving my websites. I created my primary web gallery about 6 or 7 years ago from scratch using Microsoft's Front Page editor. The site has been an easily accessible repository for over two thousand of my images, but it is embarrassingly out of date. Today services like SmugMug and Zenfolio provide easily managed photo gallery sites with beautiful designs and an amazing collection of features. I've meant to update but I never seemed to have the time. Now I have been forced from my lethergy by the fact that my web host is going out of the hosting business. I have no choice but to move by the end of the year, and I also have to find a new home for the Chesterfield Conservation Commission web site. 

My Current Front Page Design

After much research, and the advice from many of my friends at the New England Photography Guild, I decided to go with Zenfolio. It has been exciting, but laborious, to move thousands of my images to the new platform and I am also working though a long list of design decision. My old portfolio images are of fairly low resolution. They are adequate for a rough archive of my work, but won't show well given the capabilities of their new home. I have just started the process of re-editing my favorite pictures to show best on the new site and be available for on-line sales. it will take months to get all the images up to standard. My hope is to get everything reasonably presentable by the end of the month, when the lights go out at my old home.  Hopefully, within a few days, partridgebrookreflections.com will have a whole new look.

The real reason for sharing my strain is to serve as a long winded apology for what will be a short and simple blog this week. My one goal is to remind folks about the size of their viewfinder and how overly tight framing of a composition within the constraints of the viewfinder can limit how your images can be presented when it comes to printing.

Going Standard

Pocket Full of Rye, Keene, N

I do my own matting and framing and can cut my mats to fit any  picture size, but when I am producing matted images for sale in stores I usually try to adjust my composition to fit a few standard sizes. This makes it easier and less expensive for my customers to find frames for the pictures. This doesn't work for all images. Some pictures loose there impact if confined to an arbitrary framing, but for the most part images can work well within just a few standard options. For larger prints I typically will use either a 12x16 or an 12x18 print. These two sizes end up being mated to fairly standard 20"x24" or 18"x24" dimensions. I typically size my "8x10" images close to 7"x10" since this fits more evenly in a standard 11"x14" frame. Now that I have started producing my own note cards, I am also printing more in a standard 4"x6" format.

Getting the Composition Right in the Digital Camera
All of this careful sizing depends on getting an image in the camera that can eventually be cropped to a desired aspect ratio and this is the simple point of today's blog. When you use the viewfinder as your compositional frame, you may be restricting your options later to crop the image in the best way.

12x18 & 4x6 Fit the Viewfinder

The standard "full" digital sensor matches the size of 35 mm film at 36mm x24mm yeilding an aspect ratio of 1 : 1.5 in the viewfinder. That is, the long dimension is 50% longer than the short. This matches the aspect ratio of 12"x18" and 4"x6" compositions, but if you frame tightly within the viewfinder you may find you are limited when it comes to cropping to other ratios. For example, a 12"x16" is at a ratio


of 1 : 1.33. For illustration, I have included a number of frames with the different aspect ratios superimposed on a standard viewfinder, but the simple point is to consider how you might eventually display an image when you compose in the camera. Today's digital cameras have lots of resolution and broadening the initial composition is


unlikely to significantly degrade the quality of the image. Once again the best image in the digital camera may not be the one that looks the best in your camera's viewfinder. The secret is to pull back from the strict 1:1.5 ratio imposed by the viewfinder. To apply your own visual cropping and make sure that everything you need for that ideal composition is safely within the frame. The image directly from the camera may well include distracting elements, but that is what cropping is for.

Final Points
Just a couple of additional points. First the 1 : 1.5 ratio holds for most of the crop sensor cameras as well. Canon's usual 1.6 crop sensor has an aspect ratio of approximately 1 : 1.58. Finally, I should point out that my compositional limitations are often saved by the fact that, like many DSLRs, the viewfinder on my Canon D Mark II only shows 95% of the image that will be recorded by the sensor. I can always go to Live View to see the full image, but sometimes it's good to have that little bit of buffer to protect me from my natural tendency to want to see the perfect image in that nasty, dictatorial viewfinder.

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