I hear from colleagues more and more, particularly ones in the video industry, that they rely on shooting in a higher resolution, and then reframing in post. While this can be a useful tool, there are a few reasons not to rely on this as a compositional technique.
Maybe it’s because I am an old-school, classically trained film curmudgeon, who made his first short films on lower resolution formats like 16mm film (cough), but I personally believe that the words “fix it in post” should be banned from the filmmaking lexicon. This goes for you too still photographers.
Of course we all do some tinkering in post, but the closer you come to acing the shot in the field or on set, the less you have to do in the edit suite. To use a winemaking parallel, the wine is made in the vineyard, not in the winery; to take that one step further, you can’t turn shit grapes into amazing wine. Amazing wine only comes from great grapes, and amazing images only come from amazing timing and optics.
For this reason, I am all for utilizing technology for the betterment of storytelling, but I think you should compose and shoot in the field as if that is it. Optically, choosing the lens you want that expresses things spatially in a way that makes sense for your story is the best choice. Reframing in post will never allow you to expand or compress space in the same way that a lens will.
A wide lens has a distinctly different feel than a longer telephoto lens. Longer lenses compress space and put you at a distance from your subject. A wider lens expands space and might allow you to get right up close and personal — this would have a drastically different effect. The distance and relationship between you and the subject is also affected by your choice of lens.
Composition is a function of framing, lens choice, relationship to subject, and story. All of these things make up your image. Reframing later might be a valuable tool to save your bollocks on an error, but ultimately, the best image makers still make these choices in advance. I encourage everyone, particularly those just starting down this career path, to put some extra thought into their images. You may spend some extra time in the beginning, but that process will become quicker over time. Ultimately, you will be a better image maker for it.
Trust me on this one, your editor will thank you — especially if the editor is you.
Chris Stenberg is a creative director, photographer, filmmaker, and traveller. In his spare time you can find him biking and boarding in the mountains of British Columbia.