How To Use Aspect Ratio When Cropping Your Images

Gerry van der Walt All Authors Leave a Comment

Photography is, when you look past all the techno babble, about what you put in the frame.




That is pretty much as simple as it is. 


When you are out in the field with your camera you have a choice of what you include and exclude from the frame.  You have the choice, and the responsibility, of telling a story to your viewer in a single frame and how you use the frame is a big part of that.


In this new series of blog posts we will be starting with a blank frame and then look at various compositional approaches to how you can go about creating images and telling stories.  How you can place your subjects in the frame and how to use the space to best tell your story.


Before we get going I thought it would be a good idea to cut back to basics and to look at the aspect ratio of images and how they can make a difference when you are composing or cropping your images.  Yeah, I mention cropping as most of us will only have one, possibly two, cameras when we are photographing so the aspect ratio there will be a given but through cropping you still have a choice of how you present your final frame, your final story, to your viewers.


Most digital cameras have an aspect ratio of 2:3.  Just in case, the aspect ration of a frame refers to the relationship between the height and width of an image, regardless of it’s size.


The following image was taken on a Nikon DSLR and has an aspect ration of 2:3.



Aspet Ration of 2:3


The above dimension / aspect ration is normally what you will have to work with when you are composing your image in camera. 


When I photographed this lone tree in the Masai Mara I used the frame to compliment the open space and the tree leaning to the side.  The height and space to the left of the tree worked.


When I now go and change the aspect ratio of the image, by cropping in in Lightroom, the whole feel of the image changes.  The story changes.



Aspect Ratio of 9:16


An aspect ration of 9:16 is being used in some of the newer consumer cameras and is also being used in new television sets.  By cropping the original image to 9:16 the story of my tree landscape has changed slightly. 


The emphasis in the above image has shifted more to the horizontal lines in the image and the tree (almost) seems a bit shorter.  Sure, it might only be a perception but it does make a difference to the overall look and feel of the image.



Aspect Ratio of 4:5


A 4:5 aspect ratio is becoming more and more popular with photographers as it makes for a great layout which allows for portrait and landscape format without the feeling of this is just too long and tight which is common with a 2:3 layout. 


You can see in the above image that you still get the feeling of both height and width of the landscape and the tree has not been ‘squashed’.  The whole scene almost feels a bit bigger than the original but without as much space.  In the end the choice is personal and will come back to the story you intend telling.  What do you want to show your viewer?


Also something to keep in mind, if you are intending to make prints of your images, the larger sized prints of 8×10 has an aspect ration of 4:5.  Nice to know when cropping and composing. 



Aspect Ration of 1:1


A 1:1 aspect ratio is, well, a square.  


The moment you crop, or shoot, anything as a square it automatically gets a ‘fine art’ type of feel about it.  You need to keep this in mind when choosing images as the rest of the choices you make – subject, composition, lines – all need to tell the same story.  It can, when you choose the right image, work really well but it can also make a subject feel very ‘enclosed’ so use with caution.


When looking at the above image the focus is completely on the tree as both the horizontal and vertical aspects have been minimized by the chosen aspect ratio.  Compare it to the original image to see the difference.


Even if your camera only shoots in a 2:3 aspect ratio it is still worth checking out the various options that cropping in Lightroom can offer you.  It opens up so many different ways to tell your story.   As with a lot of the functions in Lightroom and Photoshop it is worth knowing and understanding them well so that you can shoot for your processing.  Not fix up a crap image or composition afterwards but shoot with the intention of cropping an image to a specific aspect ration to best convey your story and image to your viewers.  You have the tools.  Use it.


Here is one more example of how your chosen aspect ration can change the story you are telling.




Left: 4:5                                                                       Right: 2:3


The image on the right seems more intimate – closer almost – while the image on the left gives you a little more visual information to process, thereby telling more of the story. 


Or not? 


You see, it comes back to personal preference and the final image / story you want to present to your viewer.  There are no rules.


Check out how different aspect ratios will help you to create different images.  Tell different stories.  It is a great starting point on which to base your photographic vision.


If you have any questions or want to add to the discussion I look forward to your comments.


Until next time.


Gerry van der Walt


* * *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *