After talking a bit about aspect ratio at the last Everyday Photographer Workshop in April, it was clear that a blog post on the topic was in order. The aspect ratio of an image describes the proportional relationship between its width and height. For example, my camera (like all film and DSLR cameras) has a 3:2 aspect ratio.
With a 3:2 aspect ratio, I can order any of the following print sizes and the image will appear exactly as it does above: 4×6, 6×9, 8×12, 10×15, 12×18, 16×24, 20×30, and 24×36. But if I were to order an 8×10 of the above image, no matter who I ordered it from, the crop of the image would change:
The 8×10 size would take about two inches off the long edge because its shape/size is slightly different than what my camera produces. [BTW, this sample image is the perfect candidate for an enlargement because the missing two inches has little to no visual impact.]
Compact (i.e. point-and-shoot) cameras on the other hand, typically have a 4:3 aspect ratio – which is why you lose a portion of your image when ordering 4×6 prints. (An image with a 4:3 aspect ratio can be ordered as 3×4, 6×8, 9×12, 12×16 or any other multiple of 4:3 without being cropped.) It is important to note that a number of compact cameras allow you to change the aspect ratio from the default of 4:3 to the 4×6 print-friendly 3:2!
So if you have been wondering why your prints never seem to look the way they do in your camera or on your computer, check into your camera’s aspect ratio!