16:9 – The Widescreen Appreciation Post

South Devon Railway

Aspect ratios. Not a thrilling subject in themselves, but fairly important as a consideration when taking photos. We’re used to the 3 to 2 ratio of DSLRs, or 4:3 as can be found on compact cameras and Micro 4/3s. Instagram initially only offered a square ratio for posts, which would have been a consideration that made sense within the realms of the app, but they relented and offered a scalable space from anywhere between 1:1, 3:2 and 16:9. The latter is an interesting one, especially useful for emphasising the scale of your scene, or otherwise aiming for the cinematic look. Films are almost exclusively widescreen now; of course, this has little baring on stills photography, but it does mean the widescreen ratio is chosen less often.

As a photographer, it is one I like to use, in the same way I use 1:1 sometimes. By changing the aspect ratio, you are having to alter your composition and this is a good thing. By adjusting how you look at a scene, you are aware of what fits within the image, what detracts also. Photography is very much an art form that thrives within constraints. Where a painter can move something to enhance a scene, with a photograph, you can only capture what is in front of you. Sure, you can remove it in post, but there’s a joy in getting as much correct at the moment you press the shutter. It is why I like prime lenses, because you can only get what is directly in front of you in the scene. When I switch to the 16:9 ratio, I have to look to see that the top and bottom of the frame are exact. When using 1:1 you have to keep all sides in mind. It’s just another way to enhance the thought process behind taking a photo.

I’ve set my Sony RX100iii to 16:9 now, just another way to set individual cameras to individual purposes. The photo at the top of South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh is one of the first I took in this way. Shot in RAW and processed in Photoshop Camera RAW, the scene offers a broad look at the trains in the yard. I shoot RAW with this camera because I find the Sony colour science to be appalling, certainly having bought into Fuji and coming from Canon and Nikon DSLRs, but that is a whole can of worms for another time. ┬áBack to the image, I like that with this aspect ratio, there’s little sky to detract from the subject and the first carriage is very much in the foreground, but it also leads into the image; as do the rails, too. If I’d taken it in 3:2 ratio, then you’d have sky to contend with and the dynamic range would alter. For this scene, 16:9 suits it well. As a shooting choice, it definitely has its place and Instagram now displays it properly, to boot.

Cheers, Matt.