Aspect Ratio

Woman hand frame sign

As if there weren't enough things to think about, I recently started thinking about yet another aspect (pun intended) of stock photography: aspect ratio. I got a compact camera this Christmas and discovered that it was 4:3, rather than 3:2 as I'm used to with a DSLR. This has more impact than I would have thought:

1. Taking pictures. I find myself taking a lot more photos in the 'landscape' orientation rather than 'portrait'. When taking photos of people I find the SLR ratio too wide unless you want lots of background (environmental portraits, etc.).

2. Cropping. I find that I crop some photos down to a more square format for stock photography. Ellen Boughn pointed out in one of her blogs that a square format optimizes the use of the thumbnail enlargement. You get 100% use of the enlarged view when using a square. This comes at the cost of resolution, though. With the 4:3 ratio you are only losing 1/4 of the resolution, compared to 1/3 with the 3:2 format. This may mean the difference of an extra price category depending on the megapixels of your camera. My shot of the top of a camera below is an example of cropping to fit a square...

3. Space. The more square format seems to leave more room around things compared to the 3:2 format. This probably helps designers as they have a bit more room for copy space or just to crop out to fit a layout.

4. Printing. On a personal level the 4:3 format comes closer to matching a 5x7 or 8x10 print with less cropping. You get more of the original resolution when cropping to fit a standard print format. While that is of course not true in the standard 4x6 print size, that only tends to get used for 4x6" prints - the smallest size which doesn't need any extra resolution.

5. Pet peeve. Why do photo frames always seem to come in a 16:9 ratio? Arg!

It is another thing to consider when purchasing a camera, even at the SLR level (Olympus is 4:3).

Feel free to chime in on your favorite aspect ratio to shoot pictures!

Flash hot shoe

Camera mode dial

Photo credits: Brad Calkins, Chaoss.
Brad Calkins
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  • Bradcalkins
  • Salmon Arm, Canada

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December 30, 2008

I personally for my own pleasure prefer 4:3. But this is a very good question, and it also relates to another question. How tight should one crop? Tight crop makes pictures with more impact but leaves less room for the designers to put text etc. I am sure there is no absolute correct answer and I would be content with some guide lines from somebody who really knows :) BTW are you guys setting up your photos upfront leaving space for the designers?

Looking at this from the computer side: Most photos are used on the web. Newer monitors have a form factor of 1920x1200 or 1600x1080 as opposed to older ones 1600x1200, 1280x1024. This would suggest that 3:2 is a better ratio for the future. On the other hand this does not mean too much since the windows that open up do not necessarily have the same aspect ratios as the monitors.