Aspect Ratio Shenanigans

This one is a short rant about aspect ratios. The common sizes for prints nowadays are 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20. That works out to be a ratio of about 4:5. My camera sensor and viewfinder will natively produce images that are 8x12, 11x17, and 13x19, or essentially 2:3.



Why can’t print sizes and sensor sizes match? Who decided to make one differ so much from the other? Obviously paper came before film and therefore digital sensors, so if that’s the case, then why not design the sensors to match the usual print aspect ratios?

I’m sure there’s some cute physics reason for it, and I’m too lazy to research it at this moment (I’ll add an addendum to this when I finally do and hopefully get a decent answer). It may be one of those things that everyone just says, “Oh well, no big deal,” like when the CVS automatic photo printer thing-a-majiggy makes you crop all your photos. Serious photogs like me though take time to line up the shot, pick very specific compositions, and sometimes place contextually necessary elements on the fringes of the frame. It ruins the image when a client asks for an 8x10 print of an 8x12 picture. I always have to wonder, “what can I chop off this time without ruining the image?”

Here’s an example. This is the same image with the different ratios applied. On the left is my camera’s ratio, on the right is the normal print ratio.


You’ll notice in the original, or native sensor ratio, I’ve got all four kids in the frame, and there’s an adequate flower to kid ratio. The cropped image though looks a bit strange with the flower to kid ratio, and the bride and groom aren’t centered. The only solution would be to back up to get all the kids in the frame, but then I’d be stuck with a ton of room below and above the horizontal line of useless details. And as the client, you'd be pretty bummed to be missing one of those adorable kids from your print. It’s annoying...

I asked my Uncle for his take on it - he’s a pro photographer who has been shooting for over 20 odd years. His response? “Same stupid reason they made 8-10 from 35mm.. None.. No logic.”

Clearly the answer is simple - shoot wide and crop later. But I shouldn’t have too. I should be able to take a picture and print it as I capture it. Ugh, I’ll have to add this to the list of things I need to work on.

Or force my clients to use “obnoxious” print sizes. Hm…..

Mike Glatzer

Mike Glatzer Photography, Marietta St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318, United States