Proper Composition in a Digital World

Those of us that shot medium format film cameras were used to composing our shots for traditional print sizes i.e. 4×5, 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16×20, 20×24 etc etc.
Mamiya and Bronica supported what they called the “Ideal Format” cameras which were typically 6×4.5cm or 6x7cm. Hasselblad was always 6×6 cm, but also had a 6×4.5cm optional back.
For a while square prints became popular, but that faded, and most square shooters got used to cropping in the viewfinder to support more traditional print sizes.
When 35mm cameras became popular for professional use, we started to embrace the 4×6 print, and I think, to a lesser degree the 8×12.
Digital camera manufacturers have chosen to follow the format ratio of 35mm cameras and not medium format cameras. When I went digital I choose to just adapt to this format.
Now, to the point. I found myself in a shoot the other day with a bride and trying to do a head and shoulders portrait in camera. My frustration grew as I felt that for the width of the picture to be comfortable, and for the eyes to be on the upper third, the extra long dimension gave me detail above the subject’s head and further down the body than I wanted.
If I recomposed so the long dimension of the shot looked good, then the sides looked uncomfortably close. basically I did not get a shot I liked the ratio of, and I came away wondering if this dedication to new digital picture ratios was really a good thing.
I decided to research. I found a number of references to photographers and their efforts to re-adapt to the earlier print sizes. John Hartman, a popular photographic speaker, not only promotes the earlier print sizes, but recommends alternate ground glass for your camera to be able to shoot it better.
So at last my question is: How should we handle this. Did digital camera manufacturers simply copy 35mm format because their camera looked more like 35mm than medium format? Did they do it because it made their product look more appealing to a broader range of customers? Or did they do it because 35mm format follows the golden rule much closer than traditional print sizes and if that is the case, shouldn’t we bail on all old print sizes and adapt to 4×6, 5×7.5, 8×12, 11×17, 16×24, 20×30 etc etc.
The artistic evidence for the golden rule is exceptionally well documented. It is found not only in art but in nature as well. Try a Google on Golden Rule if you want details
But why then are print competitions still insisting on 8×10 and 16×20 submissions?
But does it necessarily mean that good photographic composition should follow the golden rule? Perhaps the designers of medium format cameras had a point. They weren’t copying anybody, they invented a format that suited photographic art. Perhaps it explains why I found cropping in camera to a 4×5 composition looked so much better than a 4×6 composition.
Recently, The Learning Channel’s (TLC) had a special on the human face, hosted by John Cleese of Monty Python fame. A short segment of the special dealt with a ratio, a certain 1.618 ratio in fact, otherwise known as the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is associated with what humans consider to be attractive and the TLC special made it very clear how this ratio pops up over and over again for the human body and face. Why are models considered so attractive and why is it that only certain girls are recruited to become models? The TLC special revealed that all of the top models and faces in general that are considered beautiful have an abundance of the golden ratio.
Leica invented the 35mm still camera and used 35mm motion picture film. When they invented the format, they could have chosen any width for the image area they wanted. They could have made it closer to traditional sizes. But perhaps they decided that the golden rule was a better choice. If that’s the case, I wonder if the basis of their decision was sound. Perhaps the golden rule pertains to the art within the frame, and not to the frame itself?
While I’m sure cameras will not change because of me, I can’t help but wonder if I should buy some new ground glass for my cameras
What to do – What to do

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