Photo Proportions

Square pegs and round holes


Photo Proportions•Square pegs and round holes Moonbeams Shop

When printing your photos we try to make sure you are delighted with the results. Please help us to achieve that for you by taking into account the points below about photograph proportions.

Go to: Proportions and ‘Aspect Ratio’Cropping and StretchingWhat we doWhat you can do

First, two terms that all photographers need to be familiar with: Portrait and Landscape. Portrait is, as you would suppose, when the photograph is taller than it is wide; Landscape is when it is wider than it is tall. This all dates back to oil paintings when portraits were painted portrait and landscapes were painted ... you get the idea.

Most of the frames we sell at Moonbeams can be displayed portrait or landscape, but a few cannot. So if you buy a portrait-only frame and have a landscape photograph, we have a problem printing it to fit. There are a few things we can do, as discussed below, and we can often find a suitable solution if you’re prepared to compromise a little. However this can be made easier, and the results better, if you take a few things into account when actually taking photos. These are covered below.

And if that wasn’t enough, even if the photograph is orientated the same as the frame, it still may not fit perfectly. Why not? Because frames are sometimes in different proportions to the photographs cameras take. This is explained next.

Proportions and ‘Aspect Ratio’

The standard size for a photograph is 6 inches by 4 inches - commonly know as 6x4 ("six by four"). That means the longer dimension is 1.5 times the shorter. This is called the aspect ratio, and in this case is 1.5:1 (or 3:2 if you prefer whole numbers).

If the image produced by the camera has the same proportions, no problem. Take the Canon EOS400D, for example{1}. It produces images that are 3072 pixels by 2048, i.e. an ‘aspect ratio’ of 1.5:1, so they print fine on 6x4 paper. No problem!

Cropping and Stretching

But say I want to print them on A3 paper. A3 paper is 297mm by 420mm, giving an aspect ratio of 1.414285714:1 (or 7128:7 if you prefer whole numbers){2}. You can see, therefore, that if I try to fit one of my pictures onto A3 paper there will be a mismatch. If I set the size so that the 3072 pixels match up with the 420mm, then the other dimension of the image will be 280mm - about 17mm smaller than the paper. That will leave a white border, as illustrated by Example 1, below. But if I set the size so that the 2048 pixels match up with the 297mm, then the other dimension of the image will be 446mm - about 27mm bigger than the paper. Part of the image will be lost, as illustrated by Example 2, below.

Example 1 Bordered Moonbeams Shop Photo Proportions
Example 1: Bordered

Example 1 Cropped automatically Moonbeams Shop Photo Proportions
Example 1: Cropped automatically

Example 1 Stretched Moonbeams Shop Photo Proportions
Example 1: Stretched

Example 1 Cropped manually Moonbeams Shop Photo Proportions
Example 1: Cropped manually

Apart from cropping off part of my picture, or printing it with a border, there is one other thing I could do - stretch it a bit to fit the paper. Up to a point this is possible, but beyond that people begin to look too thin or too fat, and squares and circles in the image look noticeably out of shape. Example 3, above, illustrates this.

What we do

Our normal printing process uses the cropping method. For most photos this means that, if you lose anything, it’s a piece of background that nobody would ever notice was missing - maybe a thin band of sky. Cropping only shows up if the photograph has some important detail at the edge. If the picture is a person and their head is at the top of the photograph, the printing may give them a haircut. Compare Examples 1 & 2, above, which show how detail on the left and right of the picture are lost by cropping.

If we detect that a photo is likely to lose some important detail, we do have a photo resizer program that allows us to select whether the photo is printed with a border, or stretched, or if it must be cropped, how this is done. Example 4, above, illustrates manual cropping, keeping both people fully in frame (the broken line shows what will be printed). If we can’t tell what is the best thing to do we may ask you to choose.

What you can do

Here are some useful tips for taking photgraphs that will look their best whatever frame or paper size you choose:

  1. When composing the picture, try to ensure that no important detail is at the edge of the picture. That way, if any cropping is necessary, you won’t lose anything important. Ask Auntie Ethel to cuddle up closer to Uncle Bert. Tell tall cousin Kevin to duck down a bit. Step back a bit to make sure the entire panorama is comfortably within the visible image.

  2. Be flexible over your choice of frame. If you have a portrait picture, please select a portrait frame, even if the one you liked first happens to be landscape. It is not always possible to crop a landscape picture for a portrait frame, or vice versa, without losing some important detail.

  3. Only choose a large frame if you have the original high-resolution camera image file. 80x100px Thumbnails downloaded off the Internet can’t be printed 8x10! See our page Pixels and digital photography for more on this.

Whatever frame you buy and whatever photo you want us to print for it, we’ll do our best to make sure you’re delighted with the results. Following the tips above will help us to achieve that for you.

You may also want to read our other photography tips.

Did you know you can email photos to us for printing? Please see our information on emailing photos.


Confused by paper sizes? Read our handy Paper Size Guide…

We hope you find these tips useful. If you have any feedback or suggestions please contact us.

Please note: we take customer confidentiality very seriously. We never share any customer photo with anyone else without the customer’s explicit permission.



{1} For no better reason than because that’s the camera I have.

{2} Don’t ask us why it’s such an odd number. Ask the European Union, which defined these standard paper sizes.

•Photo tips: Photography Tips Index.

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