Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thoughts About Headroom-- Max and Otherwise

Max Headroom, known for his wit and stuttering, distorted, electronically-sampled voice.
Some of you might remember Max Headroom. Max was the world's first computer-generated TV host. He was introduced to the world in 1984, before most of us owned a personal computer, ever heard of something called the internet, or could possibly imagine the impact of today's cyber-connected, digital, world.

When I think of headroom, max headroom or any sort of headroom, my first thought isn't an 80s computer-generated TV host. (It might be my second thought, though, since I did find Max fairly entertaining.) Instead, what first comes to my mind is the amount of headroom photographers leave, or don't leave, when framing or cropping portraits. In a word, it's that aspect of framing/cropping simply called "headroom."  When one photographer mentions "headroom" to another photographer, the other photographer instantly knows what the first photographer is talking about, and he knows he or she is not talking about Max.

When it comes to (non-Max) headroom, it seems to me photographers mostly fall into three categories, evidenced in the majority of their work: 1) Those who leave plenty of headroom in their portraits, sometimes so much headroom it qualifies as a major "negative space" compositional element of their portraits,  2) those who leave a modicum of headroom (which likely accounts for the largest percentage of photographers) and 3) those who leave little to no headroom, including those who regular prefer to cut into their subjects' hair with the top of the frame, sometimes even cutting into their subjects' foreheads.

There's no right way or wrong way when it comes to the amount of headroom photographers prefer to include or not include in their portraits. It's a personal choice. A purely subjective and aesthetic choice. As a photographer, it's part of your artistic license. (If you're new to photography, it's part of your artistic learner's permit.)  You see, there are no specific rules-of-the-road governing headroom.  (Although headroom can be a component of a photographer's use of the Rule of Thirds, but that's another story.)

I tend to be in the third group of headroom photographers. I'm a photographer who generally leaves little to no headroom, sometimes cutting into the top of my victims' subjects' hair with my cropping. (Rarely, however, do I cut into their foreheads.) As a card-carrying member of the little-to-no-headroom club, I'm often perplexed by photographers who are in the 1rst group I mentioned, i.e., the lots of headroom group. To me, it just doesn't look right. It even borders on strange or odd in my mind. But since more than a few shooters seem to prefer the max headroom thing, I've come to realize everyone doesn't see it the way I see it.  Apparently, they see the use of headroom much differently than I do. But that's okay! Different strokes and all that.

I was going to post two versions of the same head shot to use as an example -- one with max headroom in the crop and one with minimum or no headroom -- but, when searching for a suitable photo to use, I couldn't readily find one that fit the bill. It seems that when I'm shooting, my framing without leaving much headroom Kung Fu is strong. Very strong!  I discovered, almost surprisingly, that my natural inclination to crop with little to no headroom is an obvious offshoot of a natural inclination to frame my shots without much headroom. Apparently, doing so is a regular thing with me in terms of composing a portrait shot. Well, at least I'm consistent with this headroom stuff, whether I'm shooting the pic or editing it in post. That's a good thing, I suppose.

Or, maybe it's not?

I think what I'm going to try to do, even though established habits die hard, is to start consciously forcing myself to frame my shots in ways that leave more headroom, i.e., in ways that leave, to my eyes, too much headroom. Perhaps even considerably too much headroom. It's going to seem weird to do this but I'm going to try. Why? Well, certainly not because it's my aesthetic preference to do so. Rather, I'm going to try to do this because it will leave me more options later on when I'm cropping my images. Leaving myself more options, regardless of what those options might be, is almost always a good thing. It makes sense to me in so many ways and, I hope, it does to you as well.

No comments: