ralph gibson

Inspiration: Vertical Images From History That Altered The Way I See The World by Bradley Hanson

To address my feelings about vertical photographs, to share some of my favorite vertical images from history, and to discuss why I regularly shoot vertical photographs with my wedding work, I’ve decided to create this blog post to provide additional insight. The four images above are some of my favorites from my wedding photography career. You can view my wedding images via the two galleries under “portfolio,” or you can view my favorite vertical wedding images through this link here.

With some regularity, I get messages from photographers commenting about the vertical images I’ve posted on Instagram (@bradleyhansonphotography) or on my website. Some of them ask about shooting vertical images at weddings, others are about vertical images in general or “how do I get started when I only photograph horizontally,” etc. I’m happy to share my thoughts as I am very excited about this format. I don’t talk about equipment much because it’s not a priority for doing good work, but to me, there is a sweet spot between 50mm and 90mm that lends itself well to vertical images. Normal to short telephoto focal lengths can assist the photographer in creating compositions that tend to make the vertical orientation easier to see. There are countless exceptions to this, of course, and some of them can be seen in the historical gallery I’ve created below, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Square format images remove this consideration altogether. I photographed weddings for a few years with Hasselblad square format cameras and film. The format was easy to work with, and once you get into the zone with seeing in the square format, everything seems to fit. (The main challenge with weddings with that system was the slow f2.8 and f4 lenses in low light, not the format itself). When I make photographs with my iPhone, I crop them square as a separate discipline. I’ve also created a separate gallery for those, which you can see as a menu option from my portfolio heading on the upper right.

In 1987, I bought Ralph Gibson’s book “Tropism,” from the bookstore at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. I had seen vertical images before, of course. They are not new, and many of the images in the gallery below are from the 50s and 60s, most likely a Leica M3 camera with a 50mm lens. Still, there was something about Ralph Gibson’s high contrast vertical images that made them even more abstract and surreal. While paging appreciatively through the book, I discovered that one of my favorites, the glowing hand at the opening door, was an image I’d seen before on the inner sleeve of Joy Division’s classic 1979 record, “Unknown Pleasures.”

The simple act of buying this book changed my perspective on photography forever. I didn’t suddenly starting shooting only vertical photographs, but I often found myself seeking out compositions in that format and trying to change the way I saw the world to be open to this exciting format. The 3:2 ratio of 35mm film (aka “full frame” in digital format) also lends itself better to vertical compositions because it closely approximates the “golden ratio.” (Click here to read the Wikipedia page about the concept).

I’ve redesigned my wedding portfolio to feature my vertical images, something of an anomaly in this industry that appears to be 99% horizontal. I get it. Walk into a wedding reception and you see the tables spread out wide. Go to the ocean and you see width. Our eyes are side by side, not on top of each other. For these reasons and more, vertical images can be compelling as they are outside of our day to day perspective. Ralph Gibson referred to vertical images as having a “tension” in the way they can make it feel like the frame is compressed. He even had an exhibit called “The Vertical Horizon.”

To see more Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN portraits, wedding photography and weddings all over the world, visit my main portfolio on bradleyhanson.com or email me at info@bradleyhanson.com or call me at 206-393-8292 and we can discuss your wedding plans in detail.

Wedding Portfolio Redesign Featuring 75 Vertical Images And NEW Work From 2018 by Bradley Hanson

Back in 1999 when I began photographing weddings, I was shooting only film and I had a website. It was crude, clunky and designed and updated in Dreamweaver software. The images were only 300 pixels tall. My 2nd main website, designed in 2007, and featured images that were 1200 pixels long. It was Adobe Flash based, which meant it was literally invisible to mobile devices. While the portfolio kept evolving, I didn’t really start over with a 3.0 version until 5/10/15, (a date chosen on purpose because I like numerical patterns), with a version of a site that is similar to the one you are looking at right now. In order to allow the photographs to load quickly and at a reasonable quality, the images in the gallery are 1200 pixels tall and 1800 pixels long for horizontals.

The first book of photography that I remember buying was Ralph Gibson’s “Tropism,” published in 1987, at the Walker Art Center bookstore in Minneapolis. I was immediately excited and inspired by Ralph’s minimalist, abstract, high contrast vertical B&W images. I would later do a week long workshop with him in 2003 in Vancouver, BC, after I’d been shooting weddings for 4 years. While my work doesn’t look like his, the seed of seeing images vertically was planted and has remained to this day.

Although I loved my super wide format Hasselblad XPAN panoramic film camera and it remains the one camera I still miss, my eye seems to see the world in vertical rectangles. My old website didn’t reflect this. While I’m still working on sequencing as though I am creating a book of my wedding images, my new website reflects that 50% of my wedding images are made as vertical images.

To see any image below enlarged to 1200 pixels tall, clicking it will bring it up in a new window.

You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, VSCO, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn through the links on the upper right.

To see more Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN portraits, wedding photography and weddings all over the world, visit my main portfolio on bradleyhanson.com or email me at info@bradleyhanson.com or call me at 206-393-8292 and we can discuss your wedding plans in detail. My speciality is shooting family portraits in an unposed, natural style and wedding photojournalism. I photograph weddings as they happen rather than direct the action, which is often referred to as documentary style wedding photography. I’ve photographed weddings in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Seattle and many countries around the world.

Inspiration by Bradley Hanson

winogrand-1964-cover_1400.jpg

Artists and photographers often talk about being inspired by other artists, usually in terms of an artist's body or work or a specific book. I had a moment like that in 1988 when I bought a Ralph Gibson book called "Tropism" at the Walker Art Center bookshop. I had taken various art and photography classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and had been exposed to the usual Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Klein, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, etc that are discussed in photography classes. I opened the book "Tropism" and suddenly I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up as the wave of excitement washed over me. The tightly composed, minimalist, high contrast B&W images reverberated with me in a way that nothing else had. 

I was already shooting with a 50mm lens. I didn't feel like I was doing anything compelling with it, but I stuck it out, trying to improve. After seeing the Gibson book, I suddenly saw the 50mm as a very exciting option, in stark contrast to it's reputation as a "normal" (and therefore, unexciting) lens. Seeing Ralph's work opened my eyes to the possibilities with this lens, and while I lived in a very different world that Gibson's NYC photographs, I started getting closer to my subjects and composing to crop out extraneous and non-essential visual components. Being exposed to what was possible transformed this seemingly bland lens into an exciting tool of limitless possibilities.

In the mid 1980s, film cameras (we just called them "cameras" at the time) were either sold as bodies or with the 50mm lens as kits. When I bought my first camera at age 15, the Minolta X-700, I bought the 50mm f1.7 with it using the money from my first paycheck ever.

My first photographs, of course, were breathtakingly bad. I stuck with it, eventually shooting for my high school newspaper, yearbook and every chance I could get with my normal life. I carried a camera everywhere with me, a practice I still continue to this day despite shooting most photographs with my iPhone 7 Plus. 

Because I wasn't yet moved by my own photographs, I naively assumed that the real problem was the 50mm lens. I loved cinematography and noticed that most images, particularly in Kubrick's movies, were taken with wide angle lenses and to a lesser degree, telephoto lenses. I didn't think I'd ever get where I wanted to be with a 50mm lens. This would later prove to be false, but that was my thinking at the time. It's a common misconception: new equipment and new lenses almost never inspire new work or new ways of seeing. One exception was the Hasselblad XPAN, a panoramic film camera that yields 65mm x 24mm negatives on 35mm film, but that's a story for another time.

Enter the 28mm lens. My first successful image with this focal length was also the first image I ever sold.

Duluth, MN (1989)

Duluth, MN (1989)

Anyway, back to our story.

I was repeatedly seeing Garry Winogrand's work in various books (keep in mind, there was no internet to Google search) and knew he worked primarily with a 28mm. His work, at the time, looked messy and sloppy to me, devoid of compositional purpose. Some of this was my own way of processing that it was simply too much information for me. I was attracted to the minimal, clean, simple compositions I had seen in "Tropism."

Many years later, on another visit to an art exhibit and another trip to the Walker Art Center bookshop, I stumbled across a book called "1964" by Garry Winogrand. First of all, it had a beautiful, clean, vibrant, cold-tone color cover with a family seemingly picnicking in space (White Sands, New Mexico) that grabbed me immediately. I had no idea who they were or why they were in the middle of nowhere, but I couldn't stop looking at it. I didn't even notice the name "Winogrand" because I was so captivated by the photograph. It contains nearly 200 photographs, but I excitedly thumbed through it and bought their only copy, based mostly on the cover. I still have that book to this day.

This is not only one of the best books of photography I have to this day, but the cover image alone has deeply imprinted in my brain and affected the way I see the world. I think of the image often and some of it's compositional elements have snuck their way into my own work.

As always, I look forward to the next book or image to do that. Just like music, there is a feeling that comes from a photograph where all notes hit in the right place and you suddenly feel like the world is a wonderful place.

In the Outerfocus podcast I do weekly with UK photographer Ian Weldon, I ask each guest what photography book they bought first or what book changed the way they look at photography. What book was the most important to the way you see the world?

To listen to the podcast, follow this link or look up Outerfocus on iTunes. We also have links to the books Ian, myself and the guest photographers have recommended during the podcast.

The image below wasn't my first published image, but I was surprised that it was a contest winning image in the 2004 PDN "Top Knots" wedding contest. Also taken with a 28mm lens on film, lit only with sparklers.

Seattle, WA (2001)

Seattle, WA (2001)

This article was also published at outerfocuspodcast.com

You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, VSCO, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn through the links on the upper right.

To see more Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN portraits, wedding photography and weddings all over the world, visit my main portfolio on bradleyhanson.com or email me at info@bradleyhanson.com or call me at 206-393-8292 and we can discuss your wedding plans in detail. My speciality is shooting family portraits in an unposed, natural style and wedding photojournalism. I photograph weddings as they happen rather than direct the action, which is often referred to as documentary style wedding photography. I’ve photographed weddings in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Seattle and many countries around the world.

To listen to the bi-weekly photography podcast I do with UK photographer Ian Weldon, visit https://www.outerfocuspodcast.com or search for Outerfocus on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.