Quite often on our workshops we talk about the ‘Letterbox Crop’, particularly when theres perhaps not much going on in the sky or the immediate foreground of a composition.
We all view our surroundings from around 5 to 6ft from the ground, so when an image is taken from either a lower or elevated viewpoint it immediately adds intrigue and looks different from the norm. Likewise with the aspect ratio of photograph, if the image is cropped, it adds the same intrigue.
We use the term Aspect Ratio to describe the proportional relationship between the images width and height. This is described with two numbers, separated by a colon (the width always comes first). These numbers aren’t used to describe the size of image, but instead how the width and height are divided up into equal units.
The most common aspect ratios of modern cameras is either 4:3 or 3:2 (not including medium and large format cameras). The numbers can therefore be used to describe any measurement, be it mm, cm, inches up to meters or miles if you prefer. If you go into an Ikea or anywhere selling readymade frames, you will most often find the sizes 1:1 (square) 5:7 and 8:10.
So the letterbox crop is a bit more of a cinematic or panoramic aspect ratio. Some cameras will have a built in 16:9 setting, which is the widescreen movie ratio, but the letterbox is more narrow than this. I often use a 4:2 or even 4:1.5 for a more panoramic feel.
You can of course take several images in a panoramic and stitch them together, but this is quite a difficult thing to achieve perfectly due to many factors, including changing light between exposures, moving trees and clouds in windy conditions ect…
On our workshops, we show how to take a single exposure, often using a wide angle lens and looking at the histogram to make sure that the data that we need after the crop is where we want it to be. Quite often this means that the sky may clip off into pure white, but this doesn’t necessarily matter if we are going to crop it off in processing.
Mark and I took a trip to recce our Stainforth workshop earlier this year, and I took a few images with the letterbox crop in mind, below are some examples.