Understanding crop ratios for print

April 2, 2019
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This short intro to crop ratios with examples is intended for clients or would-be clients who are considering ordering wall art or prints and could use a little guidance.

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 size is 4 X 6, but also 8 X 12, 10 X 15, 12 X 18 and 16 X 24 etc.

Other popular aspect ratios are 5:7, 11:14, 4:5 and 1:1.

Photos get cut off when the aspect ratio of the original is being forced into a space that’s a different ratio.

Photos get cut off when the aspect ratio of the original is being forced into a space that’s a different ratio.

Real world example: Your phone’s camera is set to 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.


explaining crop ratios .  .   .  uploading a portrait format image to instagram    . . . . .  uploading a portrait format image to instagram


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 when placing your order, but people often miss this option if they aren’t paying close attention.

Here’s another real world example. First, the original 2:3 ratio. Looks great!

photo of couple with a 2 X 3 image ratio

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.

photo with 4 X 5 aspect ratio that doesn't look quite right

Although nothing’s been cut off, it doesn’t look quite right. 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, which it’s worth getting right. 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 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!

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Hope this helped clear up some common issues that come up with cropping especially when related to purchasing prints, which come in so many different sizes. I welcome questions from my clients or future clients, so if you are still unsure about something or I haven’t explained it the best, please let me know!


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Zoe Larkin is a San Francisco-based wedding photographer & fine art graduate originally from London. She specializes in photographing intimate weddings for joyful, free-thinking couples. Zoe creates raw, personal images that evoke a range of emotions, combining documentary photography with a stylized edge. Her work has been published on Offbeat Bride, Equally Wed, Catalyst Wed Co, Love Inc Mag among others. She adores simplicity, kindness & Earl Grey. Zoe is an equality-minded vendor that celebrates diversity in all its forms. Read more about the process here