Aspect Ratios and Picture Cropping Problems - Cramer Imaging - Quality Fine Art Photography
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Aspect Ratios and Picture Cropping Problems

Aspect Ratios and Picture Cropping Problems Cramer Imaging's professional landscape photograph of Upper Mesa Falls on the Snake River near Harriman State Park, Idaho You have just had some amazing pictures taken and you want to display them in various places.  It could be a wedding, portrait, landscape, or something of many different kinds of photography.  The point is that you want to display them proudly and properly too.  Standard picture mat and frame sizes are generally cheaper than something custom.  This is the path of matting and framing for most consumers.

There is one potential problem with resizing photographs, and many other kinds of art; it often requires cropping.  The picture can still look just fine and presentable or there can be some serious problems with the image after cropping.  What can you do to prevent someone's head or arm from being chopped off?

What is Aspect Ratio?

A simple internet search of any dictionary website for the term will yield a basic definition of the proportion between the width and height of a picture.  It is often expressed as two numbers sandwiched by a colon such as 16:9.  Proportions are fractions, should we remember our grade school math correctly.  So, now we have math involved.  This can't be fun, right?  Never thought that something like that would be important in the world of photography?  You wouldn't be the only person to think this.

Why Should I Care About Aspect Ratios?

Have you ever ordered a package of photos from a photographer or even a 1 hour print lab and seen that the 8x10s are shorter and fatter than the 4x6s?  Have you noticed that some of the top, bottom, or both are missing from the 8x10 and not the 4x6?  Ever wonder why that is?  I have.  There are portions of the photograph removed from the 8x10 because that aspect ratio doesn't allow room for all the picture in the 4x6.  Some of the image has been cropped out so that the picture will look right and still fit on the dimensions of the paper it's printed on.  A professional photographer works hard to make sure that the final printed product will still look right in a different aspect ratio.  Sometimes, this is just not possible to do.

Cramer Imaging's professional wedding portrait of bride and groom sitting on a bench looking at each other at Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah
Cramer Imaging's professional wedding portrait of bride and groom sitting on a bench looking at each other at Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah
8x10 Crop here works well
Why would a professional photographer have problems cropping a picture?  It has to do with the photograph itself and what is being depicted.  Sometimes a picture will work out very well when cropped and sometimes it won't.  Why is this?  It is a simple matter of answering the question of what the subject matter is and whether or not it will be marred when cropped.  If it will be altered in such a way as to yield an undesirable result, then the aspect ratio is an important part of the picture to consider when trying to frame it for display.

When it is important, the specific dimensions of the image are important to have because this will help in the math of deciding what would be the best final presentation size for the picture.  If no important elements of the picture are cut out during a crop, then there is no need to worry about aspect ratios in creating a presentation-worthy photograph.  Even consumer-generated photos are not immune from issues with aspect ratios and cropping.  Ever try to blow up, print, and frame one of your own pictures?  The same rules apply.

What Should I Look For?

The most obvious answer to this is if a crop job cuts off a head or an arm.  I haven't seen very many photos with missing heads that look at all any good.  Also, you want to see if whole people get removed from something like a group portrait; also a highly undesirable result.  Will someone's face be covered by a mat or frame due to the crop?  That is another thing to consider.  Mats and frames have a small margin of overlap across the picture which can inadvertently cover up a part of something important even though it was not removed with the crop.

Cramer Imaging's professionally photographed portrait of a family holding hands on a bridge with fall leaves in Idaho Falls, Bonneville, Idaho
Cramer Imaging's example of a poorly cropped family portrait based on composition
8x10 Crop Chops Off Arms
The Crop is Unsuccessful
"That's all well and good but my photo in question is not a portrait.  There are no people in it.  What do I look for when there are no people in the picture?"  That is a good question.  If you are handling a picture of an object, then you do not want to remove any part of the object.  A chair would not look right with part of the back removed and a grand piano shot wouldn't look right without all the legs showing.  Don't crop those elements out.  There are some things which are expected to be seen and the image looks wrong when they are cut out.

Landscapes are more difficult to define.  Due to the fact that there is a photograph in front of you already implies that a photographer felt this was an appropriate place to crop out the rest of nature.  So, what do you do when cropping a landscape photo?  The answer is to try and cut out the parts which don't matter so much.  If you are holding a picture showing a lot of sky and clouds, then the ground is less important and can suffer some removal without too much obvious damage and vice versa.  Try and make the final image look as unaltered as possible.
Cramer Imaging's professional landscape photograph of Upper Mesa Falls on the Snake River near Harriman State Park, Idaho
Cramer Imaging's professional landscape photograph of Upper Mesa Falls on the Snake River near Harriman State Park, Idaho
8x10 Crop Sort-of Works.
The Picture Loses Some of the Grandeur But Can Still Work.

I Don't Want to Crop, It Doesn't Look Right, What Do I Do?

If cropping is not working for you or the picture you want to show, then the simple thing to do is to find out what dimensions the picture has and keep the same aspect ratio when sizing up.  This begs the question of "what are the common aspect ratios and common sizes?"

Common image/picture/photograph sizes are as follows:
  • 2x3 (wallet)
  • 4x6
  • 5x7
  • 8x10
  • 11x14
  • 12x18
  • 16x20
  • 20x30

Common aspect ratios are:
  • 3:2 (most common)
  • 4:3
  • 16:9 (widescreen)
  • 1:1 (square)

The aspect ratio of 3:2 translates into a 4x6 picture perfectly.  Most digital cameras shoot at this aspect ratio.  If you don't want to crop, then a multiple of 4x6 is what you want to find.  A 12x18 or 20x30 inch size will allow you to magnify the size of the photograph without having to crop.

Sometimes you will find a picture which doesn't meet the common aspect ratios and will not fit into a standard sized frame.  Panoramas are good examples of this kind of problem.  Sadly, a custom job must be ordered to mat and frame these non-standard sized images.  There are alternative display methods, such as mounting, which could be used as well.


Aspect ratios are something which governs the appearance of photographs and other works of art.  It consists of the ratio of width to height and is one of the considerations when resizing a picture for printing.  When properly cropped, there is little important difference between one aspect ratio and another.  When poorly cropped, there are visible issues.  Proper attention to the elements contained in a photo will help prevent poor cropping.

When cropping is not a good option, choosing a size with the same aspect ratio will alleviate any problems stemming from cropping.  With simple attention to these points, it will not be difficult to create prints of your own work suitable for display in a mat and frame.