Why are my feet cut off? Explaining “Aspect Ratio” in Photo Printing

February 15, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Have you ever ordered a photo enlargement only to receive it and realize that part of your photo is missing?  Perhaps the top of someone’s head is missing or maybe their feet are cut off.  What most people do not realize is that as you change the size of a photograph or “crop it,” what is called the “aspect ratio” changes.  The easiest way to visualize this is by thinking of watching a newer movie on an older television.   Over the past several years, we have seen the shape of televisions change slightly.  They have evolved to a longer, rectangular-shaped screen, versus the older, boxier, more square-shaped version.  When you try to watch that newer movie on an older screen, you will see that it is in a “letterbox” format and there are now black lines bordering the top and bottom of the screen.   Imagine stretching that movie to fit the entire screen.  Surely you would lose something on the ends by doing so.

The same holds true with photographs.   The actual size of the image that comes out of most cameras today fits a 4x6 inch photographic print perfectly.  You can enlarge that photo to a perfect 6x9, 8x12, or 16x24.  If, however, you try to turn that same 8x12 image into an 8x10 inch print size, you can see, just by looking at the numbers, that you have now lost two whole inches off the bottom of that print!  It is still eight inches on one side, but alas, there goes Aunt Edna’s head!  All kidding aside, this can be very frustrating and you need to realize that this happens when ordering your prints.

Here is an example of what a single photo looks like when printed at various sizes:

 

4x6 print size/2:3 aspect ratio (Standard size SOTC or Straight out of Camera)

4x6 crop (2:3 aspect ratio)Nothing is lost with this aspect ratio

 

5x7 print size/5:7 aspect ratio (You are beginning to lose a bit on the short edges here)

 

8x10 print size/4:5 aspect ratio (You lose quite a bit on the short edges using this crop)

 

Square print size/1:1 aspect ratio (You lose a lot of your image with a square, but framing is easy!)

 

If you want your final printed photo to show exactly what you see when looking at your digital image, you should print in a 4x6, 6x9, or 8x12 format.  However, you may want a photo in another size.  Perhaps you want an 8x10 or 11x14.  That is fine, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

So what do you do if you want that photo in a certain size?  Well, frames containing the standard aspect ratios are getting easier to find.  If you are looking for something larger than a 4x6 print, you can get a 6x9 or 8x12 and still be able to find a frame.  Although they may not be carried in all stores, you can certainly purchase them online.  The other option would be to get a photo mat to fit the size of the frame you are using and simply have the mat cut to the appropriate size.  You can even buy mats precut to various sizes at some of the chain craft stores or online.  You can also simply pay attention to the crop markers that appear when you go to print your photos.  If you’ve ever ordered prints online, you will recall that there is usually a step that allows you to custom crop your photos and view them as they would look cropped.  PLEASE do not overlook this step!  It will surely save you a lot of displeasure when your photos arrive and they are not exactly what you expect!

Happy printing!!!

 


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