How Well Do You Know Your Aspect Ratio?

By Shelly Katz– 

Recently, a puzzling question crossed my desk – yes, it was a Monday.

Question: Do you have a chart of what is the most standard actual print sizes to fit on a certain paper size. EX:  17×22 paper size –  renders a 18×12 print Thanks!

My Reply:  At first all I could say is that any size image up to the size of the paper would surely fit, and although I wasn’t quite sure what the writer was asking, it did get me thinking of what the standard sizes of photographs really are.  Eventually, of course, I found myself searching for where those sizes come from, and why, and that of course led me to think about aspect ratios. Now that’s a question I can research. In an article Graphics Software guru, Sue Chastain writes:

“Aspect ratio is the relationship of an image’s width to height, or its proportions.

“Digital cameras produce files with an aspect ratio of 4:3. But many common photo print sizes have a different aspect ratio. For example, a 4 by 6 print has an aspect ratio of 3:2; an 8 by 10 has an aspect ratio of 5:4.

“When you change the print size of an image and you’re going to a different aspect ratio, make sure the values you enter will accommodate the whole picture, otherwise your print will have gaps along two sides. Of course, the trade off is that a small part of your image will be clipped.

“Take, for example, a typical digital camera file that you want to print at 4 by 6 inches. With aspect ratio restricted, you can either do 6 by 4.5, resulting in a half inch of the height being clipped. Or you could do 4 by 5.333, resulting in a blank strip along the top and bottom edge of the print.

“To avoid having the image clipped by your software, you should crop the photo to the correct aspect ratio, prior to setting the print size. Some software will have preset aspect ratios in the crop tool for common photo print sizes. In Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, you can enter the height and width in the options bar before making a crop selection to crop to a specific aspect ratio–just avoid putting a number in the resolution field if you don’t want the image resampled when you crop it.”

Cornicello Aspect Ratio Image

Image © John Cornicello Photography

Common Aspect Ratios: • Digital Camera Aspect Ratio – Some digital SLR cameras use the 3:2 size as standard, while others use 4:3. To be certain of your camera’s exact Aspect Ratio, measure the relationship of the image’s width to height, or its proportions.

• 35mm Film Still Camera Aspect Ratio – 35 mm film from a still camera measures 24mm x 36mm producing approximately a 1:1.5 Aspect Ratio. Once again, to be certain of your camera’s exact Aspect Ratio, measure the relationship of the image’s width to height, or its proportions.

• Panoramic Sizes generally have an aspect ratio of 2:1 or larger, the image being at least twice as wide as it is high. The resulting images take the form of a wide strip. Some panoramic images have aspect ratios of 4:1 and sometimes 10:1, covering fields of view of up to 360 degrees.

• Greeting Cards – Take into account the image’s aspect ratio when selecting your greeting card size. And finally I found myself actually asking “what are the standard sizes of picture frames and what aspect ratios would fit?” The answer is here:  


“How do I change the print size of a digital photo?”

“Aspect Ratio and How to Crop to the Proper Print Proportions”

Frame Destination

Author: Red River Paper

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  1. Great article and gets people to think before capturing the image. FYI a typical Consumer Digital Cameras shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is the same as a 3:2 ratio, and also happens to size to a 4×6 when printed. I tested this out on a Canon Rebel T5i, and a Sony A6000 and yes you can tell your camera to capture in other ratios such as 16:9 since the camera may also shoot video.

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  2. As one of my professors once said in responded to a question of law, “There is only one appropriate answer to any legal question: “It depends . . .” So it is regarding aspect ratios. Having cut my photographic eyeteeth on 35mm and sheet film(I’m 78), and like all professional photographers of that period, a full understanding and appreciation of the impact of aspect ration in photography was a given. Now that digital rules the photo world,and Photoshop is the “darkroom,” too many photographers are ignorant of the importance of aspect ration in composing an image. Actually, how can you possibly compose an image in your mind without knowing it’s format, at least in general terms?

    My fear is that this blog(a term I am still uncertain of) will reinforce the prevailing “cart before the horse” approach to the creation of a photograph. Considering the aspect ratio, and its ancillary elements, like horizontal vs vertical, or the aspect ratio of the scene are essential to the creation of an image. These are elements of control for the professional and advanced amateur photographers. Is it for a wedding album(fixed ratio(s), portrait(fixed ratio(s), architectural(ratio determined by the edifice and landscaping), and so forth?

    If I know I’m going to print, them aspect ration is very important: If I am shooting for web use then placement in the monitor is a determining factor. Oh, wait! The aspect ratio of the monitor is someone else’s choice, not mine. If you are shooting panoramic scenes I guess placement is the critical element.

    Bottom line . . . a full understanding of aspect ration is part of the core tool set for the serious photographer, and, I suspect, is still a mystery to be solved primarily for casual amateurs.

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