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Thread: What does "formal" mean to you?

  1. #1

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    What does "formal" mean to you?

    In a photographic sense, that is. A couple of friends use that term, one to describe particular photographs and one to describe his approach to photography. I feel like I have a sense of what this means to me, and the dictionary definition confirms this somewhat. I'm just curious about what "formal," as it applies to photography and photographs, means to others. What are some characteristics that might make a photograph "formal?" Examples are welcome, from your own work or others'.

  2. #2
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    Accept the term formal as a mnemonic, something that follows accepted forms, and forms consist of rules. A formal portrait would be recognized as it resembles other accepted rules of composition, lighting, environments. Much of fine-art photography is formal. Following certain principles or rules does not remove the opportunity to make unique work, it merely frames the critical scope.

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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    I would use the term to describe how a photograph is presented, not the photograph itself. A print thumb-tacked to the wall would be a very informal presentation, and a print matted in a white window mat and a simple black frame would be a very formal presentation...with degrees of formality in between.

    Reading jac's post, I have heard the use of formal and informal portraits -- but that is about the only reference I can recall concerning t he photograph itself.
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    An interesting question. I had to look up information on the web - a good definition follows:

    Formal Composition
    Formal compositions are commonly used in design. It contains a mathematical structure in the sense that elements within the composition are arranged according to: colour, direction, size, shape and position.
    There are four ways of producing formal compositions, and they are based on mathematical concepts of symmetry. These are:
    1. Translation, (the change of position)
    2. Rotation, (the change of direction)
    3. Reflection, (creating a mirror image of the shape)
    4. Dilation, (the change of size)
    Informal Composition
    Unlike formal composition, informal composition does not rely on mathematical structure. It does however rely a creative eye for asymmetrical balance and freely arranged shapes and elements. An informal composition requires a centre of interest as is where the other elements will be originated from and they must be arranged around this centre point.
    • Gravity (weight and balance of shapes)
    • Contrast (characteristics of shapes and colour)
    • Rhythm (movement and velocity)
    The elements above are manipulated and coordinated around the centre of interest in order to create an informal composition.
    https://abduls91.wordpress.com/2011/...l-composition/

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    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    Robert Opheim

    Informal Composition
    Unlike formal composition, informal composition does not rely on mathematical structure. It does however rely a creative eye for asymmetrical balance and freely arranged shapes and elements. An informal composition requires a centre of interest as is where the other elements will be originated from and they must be arranged around this centre point.
    Does this image occur on either side of the definition. Does it arise from the centre or no place ?

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Why is it compelling?

  6. #6

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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jac@stafford.net View Post

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Why is it compelling?
    Great composition! It's compelling because she is looking out of the frame which creates some tension.

    Formal composition is usually boring but not always.

  7. #7
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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    Context is important.. In a Aaron Siskind bio I just read, formal seemed to mean the photo subject was form.
    Mostly in terms of portraits it seems to be used in a sense of tradition or the antonym of experimental.

  8. #8

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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    formal portrait is what you get when you go to a photo studio that does wedding pix and graduation pix and looks very stiff

    an informal portrait is not taken in that kind of studio and usually outdoor and usually in casual clothing


    formal portraits is what you end up with if you buy boxes of old family photos - most of them in cardstock folders with the studio name on it

  9. #9
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    In this day and age, anything taken with the conspicuous deliberateness of a big view camera, which ends up in the "suit and tie" of a nicely printed and tastefully framed wall print, could logically be called formal. Beyond that, the client would pay you to do what you do best as a photographer, not due to some hypothetical
    rules of how someone else once did it. I totally disagree that it needs to follow previous studio conventions of pose, routine lighting, and background. That just
    sounds like a production line, and is apt to be a bit boring. All the career portraitists I know of stayed in business due to a signature style, which was apparent
    in both their studio and outdoor portraiture shots. They didn't get there just by copying everyone else.

  10. #10
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    Re: What does "formal" mean to you?

    formal "back in the day" got its roots
    from painting as did most everything with photography.
    formal portraits, architecture &c photography followed rules
    of composition &c which were formal conventions.
    formal these days really has no meaning because there
    aren't any rules to follow anymore. its like
    going off the main road where there are speedlimits
    and stop sighs "PED X-ING" signs and turning into a grocery store
    parking lot where anything goes. sure there are some people
    who follow conventions, they use a view camera, and they like things to
    look "just right" whether they are photographing peeling paint or bills on a billboard, staples on
    a telephone pole, portraits or a landscape, and then there are people who don't ..

    YMMV

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