Monday, April 28, 2008

Size of frame

"The people we see in images are for the most part strangers ... The relation between the human participants represented in images and the viewer is once again an imaginary relation." (Kress and van Leeuwen, p. 131-2)

The distance between a photograph's subject and the camera, also called the size of frame, suggests different levels of intimacy between the viewer and the viewed. Photographers use the following conventions to define a picture's size of frame:
A(n)... Extreme close-up shows... anything less than head and shoulders, or an isolated body part
Close-up head and shoulders
Medium close shot human figure from waist up
Medium shot human figure from knees up
Medium long shot full figure
Long shot full human figure occupying about half the height of the frame
Very long shot full human figure occupying less than half the height of the frame

Kress and van Leeuwen suggest that the different sizes in frame correspond to the varying levels of social distance we keep with each other in everyday interactions (see Edward Hall's definitions of personal and social distance in Kress and van Leeuwen, p. 130). The physical distance between people defines how much of one participant the other participant can see; the closer you are to a person, the less you can see of their full body. Because social relations influence the distance in which people interact, the size of frame corresponds to a level of social intimacy. Just as a small distance between two people suggests a level of intimacy and a distance of an arm's length suggests a level of formality, a close-up suggests personal interaction while a medium or long shot suggests observation or a distant relationship between viewer and viewed.

Through choices in an image's size of frame, advertisers suggest certain relationships between the people in advertisements and their viewers. Consider 54 Dasani, 19.2 Jim Beam and 34 Timberland, shown below. The level of intimacy suggested by the close-up in the Dasani advertisement is much more familiar than that between the reader and the two men enjoying their Jim Beam, and more intimate than the relationship the reader shares with the Timberland hikers.

How does size of frame influence the reader's relationship with the product? Could the Image in 34 Timberland be used for a bottled water advertisement? Now imagine that the two people in that Image were walking towards you -- is that better? Can you express your intuitions about these alternatives?

Similarly, imagine the Image of 19.2 Jim Beam, with a bottle of water instead of a glass in it. Would this size of frame work for a bottled water advertisement?

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