# Thread: What does "formal" mean to you?

1. ## 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. ## 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.

3. ## 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.

4. ## 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/

5. ## 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 ?

Why is it compelling?

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

Originally Posted by Jac@stafford.net

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

Robert's excerpt doesn't refer to 'the' center - but to 'a' center, of interest. So that's anywhere in the frame. I'd say your image is quite formal. The geometry is pretty balanced.
check this out.

8. ## 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.

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

Originally Posted by jp
Context is important.. In a Aaron Siskind bio I just read, formal seemed to mean the photo subject was form.
This is how I learned it in critiques at UNM back in the heydays. There were "formal" aspects of an image (composition, framing, printing etc.-how the image looked) and subjective aspects of an image-i.e. what it all meant or suggested.

10. ## 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

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