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Photography Aspect Ratios

Updated on February 14, 2014
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.


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Composing the photograph with a proper aspect ratio is a basic concept, but if done incorrectly, can have serious ramifications, especially if the image is for a commercial client that may want to ad text or logos or anything else to the final product.

The simplest solution is to allow room on all sides of a photograph when in its composition stage to allow modification later.

This is why editors usually prefer photographs that are captured in a horizontal as well as in a vertical format.

Even though most people are becoming more knowledgeable about photography and the many techniques, there are very few who truly understand aspect ratio when it comes to taking photographs, much less what happens when a photograph is printed.

Many photographers do know to ask about the ratio of a digital sensor or size of the film but once the photographs need to be printed many are surprised as how much detail (cropping) a larger print requires as opposed to a smaller one. A 5X7 has more detail than lets say an 8X10 and much more than on an 11X14.

In other words, the larger the print the more cropping it suffers on the top, bottom and sides. Aspect ratio in a sense has something to do with the photograph's proportions.

Aspect ratio is simply the relation of the sizes in the image's sides, the top of it and its bottom, plain and simple.

Most digital ratios are based on the common 35mm film frame and many of the most popular print sizes are 5X7, 8X10 and 11X14. When printing any of these sizes the original "35mm or 2X3" size is cropped simply because it is being magnified.

Lets just put it another way; every time you print a photograph that is larger than the original film/sensor size, it is in essence magnified and every time you magnify you are really "bringing the image or elements in the photo "closer to you" by making then larger.

Try this experiment; hold a print at arms length, concentrate on its center, slowly start bringing it closer to your face. Notice that as you bring it closer your eyes start focusing more on the center and start losing focus in the details on the edges, the closer it gets to your face the more detail you lose sight of on the photograph's sides. Same thing happens when you magnify.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported | Source

Where you aware of aspect ratios?

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This ratio issue is not a major concern if your images are for personal reasons or even commercial when you are sure than nothing will be added to any of the image's sides.

But if you regularly submit images to editors you may have noticed how often one of the major requirements is that the images are presented in the two formats previously discussed; horizontal and vertical.

Next time you are taking photographs with a commercial interest in mind try to imagine what an editor may do or ad to the sides of it.

Ask yourself, if you took the image the way that you have framed it by looking through the viewfinder, would the editor have any room to do something with it? If the answer in your mind is no, then the safest thing to do is to allow more room.

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Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. | Source

Another way of looking at aspect ratios is to think of cropping. If you took a picture and would like to keep everything in the original image even if this image is enlarged, then you must allow for cropping to take place buy leaving unused space on all side of the photograph.

A regular digital camera that has a zoom lens works under the same principle. When you use the built in digital zoom, the image is enlarged but if you pay attention to it you will notice that details are automatically cropped on all the sides of the scene.

Paying attention to the scene when you compose it and allowing for room to crop will guarantee that if the photograph is picked up to be used in any sort of publication or print advertisement, the editorial staff will have enough room to work with. This also increases your chances that the image will be used.

No matter how beautiful an image is, if the client cannot work with it , it will most probably not be used for technical reason, and your efforts went to waste.

Digital Zoom

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

© 2013 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      jainismus: thank you very much

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      alancaster149: Thanks. I rather crop with the lens by zooming in or out as necessary.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 4 years ago from Pune, India

      This is a well explained Hub, useful for learners of photography. Thank you for sharing.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Interesting, Luis. Editing/cropping can be done at the picture-taking stage or at the printing stage, your choice. You can be your own editor, or leave the cropping to someone else (who might not see the picture in the same way as you). A different, long-focus lens will do some of the job, or further 'process' failing that, depending on location or rate of speed of subject matter. It's always harder to judge moving subjects, so 'darkroom' work on the laptop can be a necessity.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Rchrdsnc: Thanks, glad it helped

    • Rchrdsnc profile image

      Carl Richardson 4 years ago from Midwest USA

      I'm glad you wrote this. I have been struggling to learn the DSLR online and in workshops. Aspect ratio is an important topic. Thanks.