If you’ve ever ran into issues with cropping images for different print sizes, read on. If not, read on anyway.
Some crops are for eating, and when there plentiful, it’s pleasing. But some crops are for seeing and when I get it wrong, I’m seething.
…no autographs please.
Ok I’m no poet. But if you often need to make prints of the photo’s you take, remembering the literary genius above may save you a lot of frustration. If you do make prints often, you probably know where I’m going with this. If you don’t, let me explain. Most photos come in standard sizes. Some of the most common sizes that I’m aware of are 4×6, 5×7, 8×10 and 11×14. The first number represents the horizontal length of the print, and the second number represents the vertical length. To take this one step further, each of those print sizes has an aspect ratio.
The aspect ratio tells you how much larger the print is in one direction versus the other direction. You can find the aspect ratio of a print by dividing longest length by the shortest length. A square print of 4×4 would have an aspect ration of 1:1. It’s horizontal length is equal to it’s vertical length. The actual size of the print could be 5 inches by 5 inches, or 20 inches by 20 inches. The aspect ratio is still 1:1. A 4×6 print has an aspect ratio of 1:1.5. It’s horizontal size is 1.5 times greater than it’s vertical size. My camera captures images at a 1:1.5 aspect ratio, which means if I wanted to just print 4×6 size images, I could print the image just as it’s recorded in the camera, and the print would cover everything I saw in the viewfinder.
Now let’s complicate things just a bit more. If you’ve made it this far, consider yourself special. Remember we said that a 4×6 print has an aspect ratio of 1:1.5. But lets say we don’t want no stinkin 4×6. We want to print an 8×10. An 8×10 size print has an aspect ratio of 1:1.25 (10 divided by 8 = 1.25), which covers slightly less area than a 4×6 print which has an aspect ratio of 1:1.5 (1.25 is less than 1.5).
…and this is the amateur mistake I find myself repeating over and over. If I completely fill my viewfinder, which has an aspect ratio of 1:1.5 with the scene I want to capture, I’ll be able to make 4×6 prints which also have an aspect ratio of 1:1.5. But If I need to make an 8×10 print, I’m in trouble. In the example above, it will be impossible to use the image as it is to print an 8×10 without loosing a part of the image.
There are two solutions to this dilemma. The first solution is to capture the image with the smallest aspect ratio in mind. If you think there is even the slightest chance that you will need an 8×10, position the scene in the viewfinder so that an 8×10 print will be possible.
The second solution is done after the image has been captured. If you realize after the fact that the way the image was captured will not allow you to make an 8×10 print, you can use an image editing program like Gimp or Photoshop to add padding around your image
This is definitely not the better solution, but if you can’t take the shot over again, it will have to do. Having a border around your print is usually only appealing when the border is narrow, and even all the way around. A border done like this will always be wider on two sides than it is on the other sides. The first option should always be your goal. Playing good crop bad crop is a very dangerous game. It can leave you with a capture that can not be printed acceptably. Don’t let sloppy camera habits force you into playing that game. Keep in mind what you’ll be doing with your images, and play good crop every time. You’ll be glad you did.