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What the Crop? Understanding Aspect Ratio For Better Prints

At some point in our lives, we've all been the subject of a poorly cropped photograph. The image, although almost perfect, left us with one less foot or hand. To prevent the loss of crucial parts of your images, we need to explore Aspect Ratio. 

In photography, the aspect ratio is a major component in understanding how to frame your subject when you photograph and once again later when you print. Aspect ratio is the width and height proportion of the image. In simple terms, it describes how wide or square your image is. You'll see it illustrated by two numbers divided by a colon like so (x:y).

Aspect Ratio depends on the camera equipment you are using since every camera has a default setting. However, with the dawn of the digital age, some digital cameras allow the Aspect Ratio to switch between different sizes. Also, computer software has expanded creative control.

What is cropping?

Cropping means reducing the size of the image by cutting some away in order to match your print dimensions. Cropping usually occurs when you are trying to print outside of your image's aspect ratio.

To print the whole picture in its entirety (without cropping ) you must print in sizes where the aspect ratio and the print ratio match exactly. Images NOT in the correct aspect ratio will be cropped or the photograph will have a white border on two of the sides.

Cropping on Rockbrook Camera's Print Order Platforms:

Center Crop: The crop window will default to the center of the image. The shaded areas of the image will not be printed on your final photograph. You may move around the crop window to create the best composition.

Shrink to Fit or Full Frame: When this option is selected, the image will fit within the aspect ratio of the print size selected. However, this may result in a white border on two edges of your print.


To help you better understand how your image may be cropped during the printing process, let's look at the most common ratio sizes.

Most common aspect ratios for images

3:2 Aspect Ratio

3:2 Aspect Ratio Size - family portrait next to a tree

Camera Gear: 35mm Film Cameras | Digital Cameras: Full Frame and APS-C | High-End Compact Cameras

Print Sizes with little or no cropping:
4x6 | 8x12 | 10x15 | 12x18 | 16x24| 20x30 | 24x36 | 40x60

Here are samples of how some of the most common crops would look like on your 3:2 image aspect ratios:

3:2 common crop samples

4:3 Aspect Ratio

4:3 Aspect Ratio family portrait by tree

Camera Gear: Most Point and Shoot Cameras | Micro Four-Thirds Cameras | Smart Phones

Print Sizes with little or no cropping: 18x24 | 30x40 | 36x48

Here are samples of how some of the most common crops would look like on your 4:3 image aspect ratios:

4:3 aspect ratio cropping samples


16:9 Aspect Ratio

16:9 Aspect Ratio family portrait by a tree

Camera Gear: Smart Phones

Print Sizes with little or no cropping: None. All print sizes would require some cropping.

Here are samples of how some of the most common crops would look like on your 16:9 image aspect ratios:

16:9 aspect ratio cropping samples


Ways to avoid poor cropping

1. When photographing your subject, give the frame a bit of breathing room to accommodate cropping. To learn how to frame a compelling image take our next Composition Photography class.

2. Edit individual images by adjusting the size or cropping to fit into a particular Aspect Ratio. Editing can happen easily and quickly by using the editing software available on our in-store kiosks or our print website. The easy to use editors will visually show how your image will be cropped depending on the Aspect Ratio you choose.

3. Check out our quick printing guide to help you achieve beautiful prints every time you place an order with Rockbrook Camera's Creative Imaging Suite.

So remember, submitting your images without considering the Aspect Ratio of the photo and final print size, will result in unwanted cropping. With a little bit of forethought and editing work, you can present your printed image just the way you imagined it.

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