Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The Frame Itself
Explore the expressive possibilities of aspect ratio
There are two principal ways to distort the aspect ratio of an image in Photoshop: uniformly or nonuniformly. The Photoshop Free Transform command will uniformly distort an image's frame and everything in it. (Go to Edit > Free Transform or press Command T and push/pull the sides or corners of the bounding box. Press Enter to apply or Escape to exit without change.) Photoshop's Content Aware Scale will distort an image nonuniformly, applying more distortion to less detailed areas of an image. (Go to Edit > Content Aware Scale or press Shift/Command/Option C and again drag either the sides or corners of the bounding box.) You even can use Quick Mask to manually specify areas that you'd like to be less affected than others. (Press Q; paint the area to be masked with a black brush; press Q again; and apply Content Aware Scale.) Neither Free Transform nor Content Aware Scale will work on a Background layer. Double-click the Background layer and change its name before distorting it. Or duplicate the Background layer and distort the copy. If you want to distort more than one layer, merge multiple layers into a single new layer. (Press Option before choosing Merge Visible from the Layers palette or press Option/Shift/Command E.)
These distortion techniques are so powerful that you can dramatically change the aspect ratio of many images, fluidly moving between square, horizontal, vertical and even panoramic formats, with staggeringly few limits. It seems the only limitations are the limits of believability—if you want to maintain the photorealism of your images and your viewers' suspension of disbelief.
Should you use these powerful techniques? A more useful question is what happens when you use them? Depending on how you apply distortion, you may enhance your images only very slightly or alter them dramatically, so much so that you may change the nature of your photographs. Whether a practice is appropriate or not depends on the use to which you plan to put your images and the types of statements you'd like to make with them. To gain some additional perspective, remember that the question of whether an image has or has not been altered is a misleading question. Every image, whether documentary or artistic, has been altered, but to different degrees, in different ways and for different reasons. The real questions are how has an image been altered, and why? Questions of method, extent and intent are far more interesting and revealing.
My recommendation is first to make the strongest images you can and then honestly tell the story of how you made them. But before you commit to a final solution, explore all of your options. Your work will be stronger for it. So will your vision.
John Paul Caponigro, author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class and the DVD series R/Evolution, is an internationally renowned fine artist, an authority on digital printing, and a respected lecturer and workshop leader. Get access to hundreds of lessons and his enews Insights at www.johnpaulcaponigro.com.
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