Photographic Design; Camera
by Brian D. Ratty
|As a photographer, whether I am making pictures for myself or for a client, I am always directly involved in the designing process. Like all aspects of visual design, photographic design requires planning and decision making. After I have an idea for a picture, I must look at my subject, decide what I want to emphasize, then plan how to photograph it for maximum impact. As you might expect, there are a number of decisions that have to be made before making any picture. But if you take the time to choose your tools carefully, and make practical as well as creative choices, you'll be confident of getting the results you wanted.
One of the first decisions that you must make in the photographic design process is your choice of tools. "Camera Vision", that is, seeing photographically, will vary with the type of camera being used. Your choice may be a compromise between a camera with which you are most comfortable and the one that is best suited for the job. You may want to use a "35mm Single Lens Reflex" (SLR) because it is convenient for action photography, or you may choose a "Medium Format" camera because of its larger negative size. A medium format camera uses a film format that is 2 x 2 inches square or larger. These types of cameras use the "see through the lens system" just like the 35mm SLR. This system allows you to see an exact view of the scene you are photographing. Another big advantage of this type of camera is its flexibility. You can expose part of a roll of film in color, then exchange the film compartments and shoot more pictures in black and white. Another excellent choice, especially for the studio and product photography, is the "View Camera". These cameras use sheet film that measures 4 x 5 inches or larger. These large film sizes can produce negative and positive images that can be greatly enlarged. 16 x 20 inch or larger prints can be made without any loss of image quality. But the main advantage of the view camera is its ability to control the position and shape of objects on the ground glass through movements of the camera's front and back planes.
These movements are just as useful for still life photographs as they are for architectural photographs. The view camera allows you to control the perspective of buildings and correct the distortion that you get when using other types of camera.
The size of the film that the camera uses can be an important design consideration if your photographs are going to be greatly enlarged in their final form.
When comparing the three film formats side by side, we can see that the smaller the negative, the more it must be enlarged to obtain a usable size. An enlarged 35mm negative will often show visible grain, and won't be as sharp as the larger formats. This may not be a problem if your photographs are destined for use in a magazine. But if the final result is a poster of a mural, then you should consider a larger film format.
Film formats have different proportions as well as different sizes. The 35mm picture is a longer rectangle than a 4x5 inch picture. Between the 35mm and the 4x5 cameras are several medium format cameras which produce a variety of different image sizes with different proportions, including the popular square format. The proportions of the film format, that is, the shape of the format, will affect the way you compose your pictures.
For example, a rectangular format stimulates our eye movement inside the frame. Dynamic composition can be achieved without difficulty. The square format offers a unique design challenge. If not carefully composed, the photograph may appear static, because its shape encourages our eyes to focus on the center of the picture. Therefore, design elements within the frame must be organized to increase the visual energy of the photograph. From a practical standpoint, the choice of a camera and format may depend upon the proportions of the photograph in its final context.
Besides the choice of a camera, and thus the format, your camera vision is also dependent on the choice of a lens. That is our next lesson.