Understanding Aspect Ratio

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So let’s talk Aspect Ratio. How many times have you taken a picture that you think is absolutely perfect and sent it off to be printed only to find out that when you get the print back that part of it has been cut off. Frustrating, am I right?
So let’s take a look at why that happens. All digital cameras take pictures in what is called an Aspect Ratio. Unfortunately, not all cameras use the SAME Aspect Ratio. My original Sony Mavica digital camera took pictures in a 5:4 Aspect Ratio. That means that any pictures that I took could come right out of the camera and be printed as an 8×10 photograph without any parts of the picture being lost. My new Canon 60D takes images in a 3:2 aspect ration. What that means is that all unedited images print perfectly as a 4×6. But what if I don’t want a 4×6? Well then, something has to be cropped off. This is something that has to be taken into account anytime I am doing a photo shoot. To further confuse the issue, I rarely offer clients a “print package”. Generally, I charge for the Shoot and I provide a DVD of all of the “processed” images. So when I provide the images, they are all in the 2:3 aspect ratio, not only because that is the ratio my camera uses, but because that retains the fullest frame (the most amount of the original picture) and the largest number of the most common print sizes are based on the 3:2 aspect ratio. AspectRatioChart(Web)I used to process all of the images into 3:2, 7:5 and 5:4 aspect rations so that each image was optimal for being printed in the respective formats. What I found is that it was taking a considerable amount of time, but of ,let’s say, 100 images, the client might only choose 3-8 to actually print. The rest they used as digital images to share with family and friends. So a big drive behind writing this article is to explain to my clients, and the public of course, how to use aspect ratios and get the images you want from your digital files. So, whether they are file I provided you or they are images you took yourself, this should help you understand it better.
So let’s look at a single image.
The pink border shows you what the print image would look like if you printed this picture as a 4×6 (3:2 aspect ratio)
The green border show you what the print image would look like if you printed this picture as a 5×7 (7:5 aspect ratio)
The orange border shows you what the print image would look like if you printed this picture as a 8×10 (5:4 aspect ratio).


So as you can see, if you wan to print an 8×10 from a full frame (3:2) file that I provide you, you will end up losing a fair amount of the image. Keep in mind though that this diagram only shows you how much has to be cropped, where you crop the image to get it to the right size is entirely up to you. For example if your file is in a 3:2 aspect ratio, but you want to print an 8×10 which is a 5:4 aspect ratio, you can crop the center, to the left, to the right or anywhere in between.


Okay, so now that you know WHAT you need to do and why, how about an easy way to make it happen. If you have Windows, then you already have Windows Photo Gallery. It may not be your default program and for sure it is NOT the most full function photo editing software available, but it does make changing the Aspect Ratio of a photo fast and easy, so I use it A LOT. I made a short video for you showing how to use it to change the Aspect Ratio of a photograph for printing.

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