Photo Aspect Ratio: This is What You Need to Know

18 min read

What the heck is aspect ratio? We’ve got the answers that will help you explain different crops to your clients and avoid confusion!


Why Does Your Photography Aspect Ratio Matter?

When it comes to the technical aspects of photography and your camera, there are many little things that can make a big difference. One of those things is aspect ratio for photography. But how do you even know which aspect ratio is the right one for you to use in your camera? We’ll break down the most common aspect ratios, why they are important, and how to decide on which aspect ratio to use for your photography.

A little girl with blonde hair holding a large yellow leaf near her face

Morgan Caddell

What is Photo Aspect Ratio?

Let’s start by defining aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is something that many photographers are taught about, but not many can actually figure out how to put it into words. The aspect ratio describes the relationship between your pictures and height with two numbers separated by a colon. There are many commonly used aspect ratios that can help to aesthetically and technically serve an image.

Why is Aspect Ratio Important?

Your original aspect ratio is important for both technical and aesthetic reasons. The proportional relationship between the width and height makes a difference in the final presentation. Aspect ratio also makes a difference depending on the format the pictures are being displayed in. Paying attention to the aspect ratio you are using in your camera, instead of freehand cropping, will lead to consistency in your pictures.

Using it for Technical Reasons

If we’re speaking technically, then camera film is the most important place where you need to consider your aspect ratio. With digital pictures, you can choose to shoot them with specific proportions in your camera, but you also have the ease of digital cropping to help. You can crop film pictures in development, as well, but the different aspect proportions of your film will matter more, to begin with.

Using it for Aesthetic Reasons

Aesthetically, your aspect ratio matters both in a digital camera and in post-processing. If you choose to shoot pictures in specific proportions in your camera then change the aspect ratio with cropping, you’ll achieve a different visual result than the image you started with. If you shot a 3:2 aspect ratio headshot portrait with your camera, for example, and filled the full frame, you’re going to have to figure out what to cut out in post-processing if you decide to put it on any social networks.

When you use crops with common proportions, your pictures will also just be more aesthetically pleasing. Instead of cropping to change the aspect ratio into whatever shape you like, consider some of the most commonly used aspect ratios in photography are. As people, we’re used to looking at pictures, screens, and prints in certain print sizes. Straying from proportions that complement each other well can make your image less visually appealing.

The aspect ratio can also matter greatly when you’re putting together your pictures. If your image is reliant on the horizon line as a compositional element, you’ll need to plan out what aspect ratio to use ahead of time.

Examples of the same picture cropped at different aspect ratios

Morgan Caddell

How Aspect Ratio Affects Composition

When you go through the settings on your camera, many digital cameras now give you the option to adjust your aspect ratio. This will allow you to take photos with the aspect ratio already set. Your rations make a big difference when it comes to taking pictures, so ensure yours is set how you want.

Cropping in Post-Production

If you crop your pictures in post-processing, it will make it so you cut information out of your pictures. Instead of cutting those pixels out of your image, setting your aspect ratios ahead of time allows you to get the scene just as you want it while shooting with your camera.

Adjusting Your Aspect Ratio After the Fact

Sometimes it is necessary to adjust the aspect ratios after the fact. For example, if you’ve shot an image that you plan to print, but also want to post on Instagram, that’s two different ratios that you need to account for. The more ways you distribute your pictures, the more types of different aspect ratios in photography you must ensure that you consider.

Composing Images in-Camera

When composing your image in-camera, you can base your horizon on your chosen aspect ratios. Most photographers choose to shoot in 3:2 aspect ratio in the camera, a standard ratio of an image based on 35mm film. But if you’re planning to shoot just for social networks purposes, choosing 4:5 in your camera may work in your favor. Alternatively, some photographers prefer to shoot entirely in 1:1 ratio, so they don’t have to adjust their photos in their cameras or between print and digital distribution mediums.

Common Photo Aspect Ratios

Let’s explore some of the most common photo aspect ratios. These are aspect ratios you would see regularly in print, on cameras, on your screens, and when you are editing images. These are the typical width and height proportions that photographers tend to use. There are a number of different aspect ratios for different scenarios.

4:5 Aspect Ratios

4:5 aspect ratios are used for 8×10 photos in printing. It’s also a popular aspect ratio because it’s Instagram’s vertical portrait ratio. A micro four-thirds camera uses this aspect ratio. 4×5 and 8×10 film cameras use these proportions as well. This is a very common aspect ratio for micro four-thirds cameras and film photographers to use, and also for some digital photographers who have a heavy presence on the Instagram platform.

3:2 Aspect Ratios

The 3:2 aspect ratio started in 35mm film photography. Beyond 35mm film photography, the ratio of 3:2 is still often used for print sizes, with 4×6 prints remaining a very common print standard. In digital cameras settings, it’s normal to see photos full frame at 1080×720. This is typically the most popular set of dimensions for photographers to shoot within. The ratio of 3:2 allows for a good amount of room for cropping in post-processing as well if needed.

4:3 Aspect Ratio

4:3 aspect ratio has commonly been used for medium format and digital cameras, computer monitors, and TV displays in the past. The 4:3 aspect ratio will create a print of 8×6 inches or a display of 1024×768.

A child hanging off a leather couch upside down

Morgan Caddell

16:9 Aspect Ratio

16:9 aspect ratio is seen on many widescreen high definition TVs, computer monitors, and smartphones. This slim rectangle will end you up with a 1920×1080 or 1280×720 resolution. While 4:3 used to be the norm for many screens and medium format cameras, this ratio has replaced those common proportions.

1:1 Aspect Ratio

The 1:1 aspect ratio is fairly straightforward, meaning the width and height are equal proportions. This is used for any square format of a photo digitally or in print. Some medium format cameras used to offer this aspect ratio.

Which Aspect Ratio Should You Use?

The aspect ratio that you use for your photos in your camera will depend on where you plan to distribute them. Think ahead of time about your overall photography goals for the image. Are you just planning to post it on social media? If so, which platforms are you planning to post on?

There are lots of elements to consider when it comes to deciding on which aspect ratio is right for you. Look at the different available options for printing and for posting on social media. Look at your main distribution channels, or what your clients will potentially be using the photos for.

You also want to make sure to instruct your clients on aspect ratio if they plan to print your photos. You may find some clients do not understand it and choose a different crop then the photo has for their prints. They may come back to you and be frustrated that the prints do not look like the photos originally did when they saw them on a computer screen.

It is your job to instruct your clients on the best practices for their pictures when they plan to print or post. You can make a little guide for them when they have received their photos. Potentially, you could put this in a PDF format, or put it onto a webpage on your site. You could also make a blog post to send to them instead for when they are ready to print out their photos.

What are the Best Aspect Ratios for Social Media?

The best aspect ratio for social media photography depends on where are you plan to post your images. If you have a heavy presence on a particular social network, perhaps focus your goal ratio for that specific network. Instagram, for example, is a big spot for photographers to share their photography work. You will want to enure, in that case, that you are adjusting your image sizes to be optimized for that network.

Why Should You Resize Images for Different Social Platforms?

When you are sharing your work on social media, you’ll want your photographs to be seen in the best possible way. Each social platform has individual post sizes that you must take into consideration. That way, you won’t have your images automatically cropped in ways that don’t suit the images.

If you’re used to shooting on a film camera, then you’ll be used to thinking about different ratios for your images. For digital photography shooters, you may not be as adjusted to thinking about aspect ratio. In either case, when it comes to sharing digitally, you must make sure that your images are in the strongest format to be shared.

Facebook

To share an image in your Facebook feed, your aspect ratio is flexible at 2:1 or 1:1. This ratio allows you to easily share the same image across multiple platforms as well. You can place images of virtually any aspect ratio on this platform, but for the best appearance in feeds, consider these two crops.

The recommended image size for Facebook feed posts is 1200px by 630px. Vertical images will scale in feeds to a maximum ratio of 1:1. Because of this versatile aspect ratio, you can easily share the same images to other social platforms.

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Morgan Caddell

Twitter

When posting to Twitter, your aspect ratio is going to be 1:1 square, a 2:1 ratio, or a 16:9 image. You have several options when choosing sizes for Twitter, so if you’re going to reuse your photo on multiple networks, you have flexibility to re-use those assets across different platforms.

When choosing your size dimensions, the minimum size to appear expanded is 440px by 220px (2:1 ratio). However, the maximum size is 1024px by 512px and the file size must be under 5MB. Twitter compresses images quite heavily, so compressing them ahead of time is your best bet to have your photo seen the way it needs to be seen.

Instagram

Instagram uses a 4:5 aspect ratio. You could also do a 1:1 square format image for Instagram as well, if you care a lot about how your grade looks on the platform. These two sizes are the best for Instagram. If you post a lot of vertical images, they will usually get a bit more engagement as they tend to fill up your viewer’s screen on the platform when they are scrolling.

For digital dimensions, an image at 1080px by 1350px will be ideal for the size. Instagram compresses your image when it is uploaded anyway, so giving them this size will work well for that. If you upload an image that is really big, they won’t compress as well as photos that are already pretty compressed.

Instagram Stories

When you are using Instagram Stories, these use the 16:9 aspect ratio. Instagram Stories take up the majority of the phone screen with this longer format. If you don’t want to severely crop your images, you can also create Instagram Story designs on a separate program to display your photos. Some photographers choose to use sites like Canva to lay out their image on Instagram Stories.

The perfect size dimensions to use on Instagram Stories are 1080px by 1920px. You can also make your image horizontal and prompt your viewers to turn their phone screens if you don’t want to change aspect ratio. That way, you can have even more of your photo seen in the way that they were intended to be seen in the first place.

Pinterest

Pinterest uses a 3:2 aspect ratio for their pins. Previously, they used to use anywhere up to a 16:9 ratio, but they have since changed their pin guidelines. Now, it is best practice is to make your pins a 3:2 aspect ratio. You will not want to post any horizontal pins on your Pinterest feed either, because vertical pins typically stand out much more on Pinterest’s feed platform.

For Pinterest dimensions, the best to use is 1000px by 1500px. Any 2:3 aspect ratio works well on Pinterest, but 1000px x 1500px is the most optimal size. This will also make for an easy size to use upon upload, and also doesn’t take up a ton of space on your hard drive.

LinkedIn

Like Facebook and Twitter, you can use a 2:1 aspect ratio on LinkedIn’s social sharing platform. This makes it very easy to cross post between Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for your brand. Not many photographers use this channel for marketing, but you can easily keep putting your content out on this platform for further reach.
For your dimensions, you can share an image at 1104px by 736px. They will appear as 552px by 289px, so compressing your image beforehand will help with the quality it ends up being shared at. A vertical image does not translate well on LinkedIn, so try to stick to a horizontal aspect ratio crop for optimal reach.

TikTok

Although you don’t necessarily post pictures on TikTok, you can include photos in your TikTok videos. The photos that you include in your TikTok posts will have the same dimensions as your Instagram Stories, and the same aspect ratio at 16:9. Make sure to consider the aspect ratio, just as you would for Instagram, for your photography TikTok content.

Young child sitting against a wall outside looking through binoculars

Morgan Caddell

Everything You Need to Know About Aspect Ratio

When it comes to aspect ratio, it matters in your photography shooting and post-processing. Whether you are a film photographer or a digital photographer, you should know the potential ratios that your digital and film cameras are capable of. Many digital cameras these days can adjust the aspect ratio cropping within the camera.

Remember to Think Ahead About Aspect Ratio

You must consider which common aspect ratios you plan to distribute the image with when you begin shooting with your camera. This will help you with your long term plans for the imagery. If you only plan on making prints, think about the standard printing sizes you’ll have to work within. For branding photographers sharing plenty of images on social media, shooting for a multitude of common aspect ratios with your camera is always safe.

Thinking About Composition for Your Photography

Whatever the case may be, making sure to keep aspect ratio in mind is crucial. For both aesthetic purposes and technical purposes, always keep the aspect ratio in mind. It may not seem like the most exciting part of being technical with your photography, but it is certainly something that makes a big difference.


Written by MEGAN BREUKELMAN | Photographs by MORGAN CADDELL

Megan Breukelman is a Brooklyn-based photographer, marketer, and host of the Photo Opp Podcast. She loves to eat cupcakes and help photographers build on their passions.


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