Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oh, that nagging aspect ratio

The Altenheim Community, a full-service senior living and retirement community in Beech Grove, Ind., sponsored an "Images of Aging" photography contest in November, and I was encouraged to enter by friends and fellow photographers. I was hesitant at first; normally, I shy away from competition when it comes to the fine arts (and yes, I do consider photography -- the making of lasting images and memories -- a fine art). I much prefer appreciating the creative aspects of the craft than the "who's best" atmosphere that almost always accompanies contests.

But ... there weren't any entry fees and it was for a good cause: The Altenheim would be a beehive of activity for a couple weeks near the holidays and give residents a lot more company than they normally would have. Plus, they would get to enjoy some wonderful photography on display for a full week after the judges sorted through the entries and made their decisions. I'm told there were 75 images submitted in the categories of people, architecture, transportation, animals, nature and "other." Each contestant was limited to three submissions total, and I elected to submit the maximum. The theme was to show something that reflected aging, and judges would evaluate the images not only on technical merit and impact, but how well the image described aging. The judges were allowed to move an image into another category, if they so deemed.

The nagging issue of aspect ratio surfaced as I was going through my archives to decide what images to submit. Submissions could be no larger than 8x10, and the sensors in my Canon DSLR bodies capture images in a 2:3 aspect ratio. That means to get commercial prints made, if the retail print size dimensions I chose for my submissions were not evenly divisible by 2/3 (e.g., 4x6, 8x12, 12x18, etc.), I'd be forced to crop my image to fit the print size. Because 8x12 and 12x18 would exceed contest rules, my options were to go 4x6 and not worry about crops, or go bigger -- to the maximum 8x10 but then crop my image. I wanted the maximum size allowable -- 8x10 -- because those not only would deliver the greatest impact, but also be much easier to see and appreciate for the seniors, and, after all, this contest was largely for them.

The images you see on this post are what I submitted, and all three required crops. They all started at 8x12. From the photo of the runner in the 2009 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and Half-Marathon (top of post), I took about an inch each off the top and bottom. It was tighter than I would have liked, but at least I didn't have to give the guy a hair and/or scalp cut. The version you see is the cropped, 8x10 version. Ditto the image immediately following this text, a shot of some old turbines outside the grist mill in Metamora, Ind. In the original 8x12, I had some space on the far right that was expendable, and that's where I took the entire crop.

The most difficult and painful exercise was the third image, the shot of the snowfall for the nature category, which I took inside the pagoda in Garfield Park, looking out at a heavy snowfall this past February. I had used the pagoda's antique, ornamental fencing as my sort of built-in frame. The fencing was key to satisfying the "aging" criterion. But to meet the 8x10 limit, I had to trim an inch off both sides, which effectively removed the curvy endings of the top row of fencing, which also, I now feel, greatly diminished the impact of the antique feel and, hence, also affected its ability to satisfy the criterion. Every instinct inside me told me not to do this ... and to find another image. But I liked it so much, and someone made a point to suggest I enter this specific image, so I went with an impartial observer's instincts and applied the crop.

In this case, I show you both the original 2:3/8x12 (the first of the two below) and the one with the forced crop to fit into 8x10.

The story does end on a nice note. I learned Wednesday I had won second place in the people category with my image of the runner at the top of the post.

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