By Gayle Vehar on | No Comments
Aspect Ratio is a fundamental concept in photography that does not get much attention. However, it is an important concept that needs to be discussed due to its importance relative to photo composition and printing.
In this article, I will explain aspect ratios in relation to photography, composition, and printing, visually compare a few aspect ratios, and discuss how to adjust aspect ratios in-camera or by cropping.
Aspect ratio is the term used to describe an image's dimensions (width and height) shown in ratio form. Initially, the aspect ratio of an image is determined by the camera's sensor.
Most DSLR camera sensors have a 3:2 aspect ratio, the same aspect ratio as 35mm film, which has become the industry standard. Micro four-thirds cameras have sensors with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is between the standard 3:2 and the 5:4 ratio of an 8x10 print. Some newer digital cameras also include a feature that will let you change the aspect ratio in-camera.
While most cameras shoot in the 3:2 aspect ratio, the ratio we see most commonly in a printed photo is 5:4 which was made popular by old portrait photographers that shot with 4x5 film. They made standard printing sizes such as 4"x5", 8"x10", 16"x20", and 11"x14" popular as these sizes required little to no cropping. These are the SAME SIZES you will find in standard frames sold in retail stores.
Importantly, when you compare the 3:2 aspect ratio of the image taken with a digital camera to the 5:4 aspect ratio of a standard photo print, you will find they are very different. You can see below that for a 3:2 image to fit in the 5:4 aspect ratio that is printed, a significant portion of the 3:2 image WILL BE LOST due to cropping.
To compose better images, it is essential to understand how aspect ratio can affect your composition.
For example, it's possible to have a beautifully composed photo properly utilizing the rule of thirds at a 3:2 aspect ratio, but if you don't plan ahead, the image may not look as lovely once printed at a 5:4 aspect ratio. Even worse, you could end up with a printed photo where the subject's hand, foot, or head is cut off. Trust me; it can happen!
Here are some examples: The two images below show how each image shot at a 3:2 aspect would look when cropped to a 5:4 aspect ratio.
Notice that in this image, there is not quite enough space around it for a good crop.
There are two ways to adjust the aspect ratio: in-camera and cropping during post-process. First, let's talk about changing the aspect ratio in-camera.
Some digital cameras allow you to adjust your aspect ratio in-camera (mostly Canon and Sony). Most commonly, they will have aspect ratio options for 3:2, 4:3, 16:9, and 1:1. Selecting your aspect ratio in-camera is a good choice if you don't plan to post-process your images and want to have the image size already set for printing or sharing.
For anyone who will be processing images in Lightroom or Photoshop, I strongly suggest you leave your camera set to its original aspect ratio and make any adjustments by cropping during your editing process.
Keep in mind that you will need to be aware of your framing in-camera, so there will be enough space around your subjects to allow for cropping as needed.
The best way to do this is to compose your shot in-camera and then physically take a step back OR reduce your focal length to include a bit more in your shot. This will give you significantly more options when cropping in Lightroom or Photoshop.
I generally crop and export my files in the original ratio that my camera captures (the same as how the scene was viewed and framed in-camera).
Once the images are imported into Lightroom or Photoshop, they can easily be cropped using several different aspect ratios as needed. Remember that all cropping aspect ratios are NOT the same, and you will need to ensure that there is enough room in your image so that it can be cropped to the aspect ratio you want.
Consider this example: In the photo below, notice how much of it will be lost when cropped in Lightroom to an 8x10. In fact, a large portion of the flowers that were beautifully framing the subject will be lost when cropped, changing the finished image drastically.
When possible, I discuss and recommend print sizes to my clients that fit the SAME aspect ratio my camera shoots in: 4x6, 8x12, 12x18, 16x24, etc.
Most clients have no idea that a camera shoots in a different aspect ratio than popular print sizes (4x5, 8x10, 11x14, 16x20, etc.). But, if they insist on print sizes that are different from the ratio my camera shoots, I explain that I will have to do some cropping to fit their desired ratio/print size.
Many professional photo printers use ROES (Remote Order Entry System) which allows you to upload your images and then adjust the crop until you like what you see. Other printers offer online ordering with a similar ability to change the crop. Hopefully, you have left enough room around your subject to allow for any crop your client may want.
If your clients handle the printing themselves, they will often be clueless about aspect ratios and wonder why their photos didn't print exactly the way they saw them.
But now that YOU understand how aspect ratio works in photography, YOU will be able to educate them, so they remain happy clients and hire you again!
Do you have any questions or comments about Aspect Ratios in Photography? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!
Hi!! I am Gayle. I am a wife to my handsome husband and mom to 4 beautiful kids. In my spare time, I am a photographer and blogger at Mom and Camera. I have a passion for sharing my love of photography with others. I teach local photography classes and regularly share photography tips and tricks on my blog. I hang out there a lot—I’d love you to stop by and visit!