This short intro to crop ratios for print is for intended clients who are considering ordering wall art or albums.
What is a Crop Ratio?
Crop ratio means the ratio of one side of the image vs. the other side. The photos I take and deliver are 2:3 ratio. That means that the only way that no part of the image will be cut off is if you print it in a format that has a 2:3 ratio also.
The most common crop ratio is 4 X 6, but also 8 X 12, 10 X 15, 12 X 18 and 16 X 24 etc.
Other popular crop ratios are 5:7, 11:14, 4:5 and 1:1.
Photos are cut off when the aspect ratio of the original is forced into a different ratio.
Real world example: Your phone’s camera has aspect ratio 16:9 (very long and thin, like a phone screen). You take a picture and want to post it to your IG feed. You think that should fit, given that they are both vertical formats. However, Instagram’s aspect ratio required for portrait images is 4:5, which is only a little longer than a square.
. . . . . . . .
L > R: The image you want to post, but no matter how hard you try, it won’t fit into the space allowed by Instagram. Something’s always getting cut off at the top or bottom.
Why does it matter?
Crop ratios matter when you want to print a photograph at a different ratio than the original digital image. You have to imagine what that 2:3 image would look like if it were printed at a 4:5 ratio.
It will happen digitally, but it’s not much different than if you were to just take scissors and cut off the sides of your photo.
With most print labs, you can adjust what part of the image will be cut off but it can be easy to miss.
Here’s another real world example. First, the original 2:3 crop ratio. Looks great!
But say this couple wanted an 8 X 10 print of this image. Then it wouldn’t look so good, as that would require a 4:5 crop.
Although nothing is cropped, there’s an uneasy tension because their arms are super close to the edge of the frame. The original crop is much more pleasing in this instance.
Wherever possible please consider using print sizes that have a 2:3 ratio, especially if you are doing the ordering yourself. That way you’ll never lose part of your image. Or, ask your photographer for their input if you are planning on wall art or larger prints. I’ll be able to advise which images look best in the original ratio and which might actually benefit from changing the crop ratio.
For individual portraits, a 4:5 crop ratio can look even better as it eliminates too much headroom and brings more attention to the subject. Compare these two, first as shot as a 2:3 and secondly cropped to 4:5. I think the second one looks better!
Hope this helped clear up some common issues that come up with understanding crop ratios especially when purchasing prints, which come in so many different sizes! I welcome questions from my clients or future clients! Leave me a comment if you want to know more.
Zoe Larkin is a San Francisco-based wedding photographer specializing in San Francisco City Hall weddings. Read more about Zoe’s SF City Hall services here.