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Seeing Vertically

A couple years ago I purchased a 6x12 back for my 4x5 camera. The camera normally uses sheets of film, each 4 inches by 5 inches, but the 6x12 back allowed me to use roll film, making negatives that are 6 cm by 12cm. The final result is a photograph that is twice as long as wide, the shortest format that is still considered “panoramic.” Panoramic formats are natural for many landscape scenes, particularly in the arid west, or other wide open areas, like the coasts.

Not far from where I live is Crater Lake National Park. The lake itself begs for wide photographs, and if one does an internet search for images of the lake, many of them are panoramas. Wanting to photograph the lake and its environs, but not wishing to repeat what everyone else had done, I experimented with turning my 6x12 back vertically during a visit to the lake. What I found is that this led to some interesting compositions.

In particular, a vertical panoramic format is well suited to the tall trees here in the Cascade Mountains. It also works well with cliffs and steep slopes, when viewed from the side. This can be seen in both of the above photographs, which owe their atmospheric quality to haze from wildfires. In the photograph below, I was able to isolate the island called the Phantom Ship from the nearby shoreline, but to include a background that gives some context.

Some photographers dogmatically resist cropping their images, but I have no qualms about cropping. The first of the photographs below is cropped from a 4x5 color negative I made when I initially got my 4x5 camera, and the second is from a digital file. We see again how natural the vertical panorama format is for tall, straight trees.

I also revisited some images that I made some time ago, that just weren’t working out in the aspect ratio of the film they were captured on. I think that the vertical format suits both of the photographs below quite well.

I should note that I’m certainly not the first person to make photographs in this format! I have a wonderful book “Searching for True North,” by Geir Jordahl, in which every photograph is a vertical panorama. All of the images were made with a camera that uses a rotating lens, giving photographs that are wider (vertically, of course!) than our eyes can see. In some cases the effect is not noticeable, but in others it creates a delightfully distorted view of “reality.”

Many cell phone cameras have a choice of formats, with 16:9 being somewhat common - that is a format quite close to the one used above. I would encourage the reader to set their phone for that aspect ratio and experiment a bit. One can also crop “in phone” after taking the photograph, to create longer, narrower formats. Get out there and try it!

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