Framing Using Different Formats

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Duration Difficulty
30 Medium


A viewfinder, some drawings (see directions).


This exercise examines format size and format. Students will almost always draw on paper that conforms to the ISO A series standard (A4, A5 etc). However, through the history of art, many different formats have been used, each having a different impact upon the image.

Paintings by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya are good examples to be used as reference in this exercise. He employed many different formats in his paintings: tall and narrow for his tapestry cartoons, short and wide for his black paintings etc. This exercise is also very useful for photographers, for whom cropping is important. A wonderful example of how cropping can change the meaning of an image can be found in John Hilliard’s photographic series, ‘Cause of Death’ (1974).


  • Students are to make a viewfinder making a viewfinder.
  • Student are to make three photocopies of a figure drawing (either their own or someone else’s).
- Some drawings will be more appropriate for this exercise than others. For example, it will be difficult to use a simple head portrait, as opposed to a full length standing figure. Teachers should be aware of this when overseeing this stage.
  • The students are to manipulate the two halves of the viewfinder over the surface of one of the photocopies so that its contents are framed. In doing so, they should experiment with:
- Size of the frame (for example: large or small).
- Orientation of the frame (for example: portrait or landscape).
- Format of the frame (for example: square or rectangle).
  • When they find a configuration that interests them, they are to crop the photocopy to conform with this format.
  • The students repeat this for the remaining two photocopies. They are to aim for three different formats, such as ‘tall and thin’, ‘long and thin’ and ‘square’.
- The teacher point out the differences between the three configurations, especially their pictorial impact on the image.
- It might be helpful to ask students to express which configurations they prefer over the others, and why.
Fig. 1. Three different framing strategies. A: long and thin. B: Standard ‘A’ format. C: Square. Each has been used to produce a different emotional impact.
Fig. 2. The drawing from which the format were derived.