Standard Sizes

In case you haven’t noticed, the internet is rife with advice for artists. For instance, a Google search yields 71.5 million articles. Some of the articles are nothing more than common sense; others border on the surprising. Some seem useful and others no so much. Occasionally, I will read advice articles, particularly if they have something to do with theatre or photography. One can never have too many insights.

Recently, I ran across one that was purported to be necessary tips for photographers. There was one on this particular list that I had not run across before, so it stuck out: “Make standard size images.” It’s very practical advice, particularly if the photographer is doing commercial work. Off-site printers usually price by standard sizes. In-house printing benefits from standard sizes in that (a) those are the sizes in which paper comes, and (b) printing to those sizes eliminates time-consuming trimming. Image-processing software facilitates cropping to standard sizes. Even mats come precut to standard sizes, as do frames. Printing standard sizes makes everything cheaper and easier.

Standard sizes do, however, introduce a restriction into the creative process. Some artists welcome restrictions and boundaries because they have been shown to enhance the creative process. Some photographers take this into account in their workflow. For example, there are photographers who know when they take the picture what formats the prints will be. Indeed, a number of photographers shoot with specific formats in mind for a series they are developing. Some photographers intend to use 100% of the negative or capture in the print.

My experience, however, has been that no matter how much planning goes into a shoot, there will always be images that cry out for cropping, and that, once done, actually “makes” the image. Conscientious cropping can establish the organic boundaries that allow the image to be all that it can be; such boundaries have little to do with standard formats.

And if the boundaries are organic the image will naturally look better. Why? Because the edges are part of the picture. Where the photographer draws the boundaries defines the image. The distance of elements in the picture from an edge contributes to the composition, modifying the image’s impact, and probably its meaning.

So it turns out that perfect cropping often results in a nonstandard-size print. Sometimes it’s off by a little; sometimes a lot. But it almost certainly will be off. Then the photographer has to decide whether or how to massage this perfectly-cropped image into a standard size. If the photographer decides on standardizing the size, the question becomes how much of a compromise is s/he is willing to make.

One photographer I know has five different scalable “standard sizes,” four of which are based on height-width ratios. The last is a variable size for long, skinny pieces. The rationale is that given that many “standard” possibilities, one would come close enough to the perfect crop that any compromise would be minimal. He says, however, that even with all those choices, he still occasionally has a crop that just won’t work with any of his standard sizes. What does he do? He prints a custom size.

There are circumstances which dictate that standard sizes are the proper choice. My vote, however goes to the photographer mentioned above. Art is not meant to be fitted into standard-size boxes. Think about novelists or poets or composers or choreographers or directors having their work confined to “standard sizes.”

Selecting an artistic form is far more complex than selecting which standard-size box it fits in. One of the goals in creating is, I think, to allow the artifact to reach its full potential. And whatever size that turns out to be is, by definition, the perfect size for the piece, whether it is standard or not. This is true not only for photography, but for all the arts.

Date: Sunday, 1. July 2018 23:12
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Photography

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