Understanding Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio is one of those terms that gets discussed often when creating prints from digital files. It can sometimes be a confusing concept and often new photographers and consumers don't understand why certain photographs won't work in certain sizes. This comes down to how different cameras and phones shoot images in different aspect ratios. We'll show how the different aspect ratio's effect the crop of different images and then some tips for shooting images to give yourself the flexibility to print and crop your images for a variety of uses.

Let's take the image above and say it was shot in a fairly typical "widescreen" shooting mode of 16:9. You can see how different standard aspect ratios will effect the crop of this image. Now the first thing you can change with this is the location of the crop. You can move the crop to the far left or far right and change the final image output. This potentially could give you a great final image at your desired size but that all depends on the subject of your photograph.

However if after reviewing how the different aspect ratios effect our crop we are not satisfied with the image crop options, what are we to do? Well you have two options. The first option is to create the image in our desired size as a "fit to print" image. This resizes the image to fully fit within any image size. The downside to this is that on 2 sides of the image we will have addition unused space. You could get creative in how you fill this space but there is no getting around that the space is needed if we are set on a specific aspect ratio. You can see how this image looks for each aspect ratio when we apply the fit to print method.

The only other option we are left with is to reshoot our photograph and make sure we leave enough space in our composition to crop it to our desired aspect ratio. This is where you as an artist and photographer will have to make a decision about how you prefer to display and show your work.

Let's walk through a scenario. If you find yourself or your clients wanting to consistently print images at an 8x10 size then you will want to make sure you are shooting your images in such a way that it fits in the 4:5 aspect ratio. Most modern cameras are set to a 2:3 aspect ratio, depending on your camera model you may or may not be able to control this setting. So in practice this means that as a photographer you must leave addition room at the left and right of the image in order to allow for the crop of the image to 8x10. The most common scenario in which we see this issue is when photographing large groups. Often the photographer will want to contain the group edge to edge within the composition in order to fill the frame with people. Then when you go to print the image as an 8x10 the people on either side of the image are set to be cropped off. Illustrated below is our crop overlay using a family photograph. As you can see no matter how the crop is moved, someone will always be getting cropped off. This forces us to utilize the fit to print method, or would require a reshoot of the photograph.

A family portrait with crop overlays

Keeping in mind how different aspect ratios work, will help to relieve a lot of the issues that people experience when going to print. With the very high megapixel count of modern cameras, when all else fails, error on the side of additional space.

Below if a table of sizes within each of these aspect ratios. Bolded are common sizes many people print. We hope this is helpful in determining and understanding aspect ratios and how they effect your ability to make a print from your digital images.

2:3 Aspect3:4 Aspect4:5 Aspect1:1 Aspect
Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash