Your Camera's Settings: Aspect Ratio Selector :: Digital Photo Secrets

Your Camera's Settings: Aspect Ratio Selector

by David Peterson 1 comment

Among the many settings you can modify from your camera’s main menu, one of them can have a dramatic impact on the pictures you take. By changing the aspect ratio, you are changing the width and the height of the image as it is taken. Not all cameras allow you to do this, but some of them give you the option. In this article, you’ll learn when it’s a good idea and when it’s a bad idea to change your camera’s aspect ratio settings.

An example of an image with a wider aspect ratio

What is the aspect ratio?

Simply put, it’s the ratio of the width of your image to its height, usually expressed as one number followed by a colon and then followed by another number. The most widely used aspect ratio is 4:3, but there are many others. Different photo and video cameras have default aspect ratios of 3:2, 16:9, 1.85:1, and 2.39:1. Some of these are deceptive, so be aware. Just because the width number is smaller than in other aspect ratios doesn’t mean the image is less wide. If the height number is much smaller, it’s likely to be a wider image.

Because the aspect ratio is just a ratio of width to height, an image can have any aspect ratio you can think of. It might not be standard ratio, but it is an aspect ratio no less. By cropping an image in any kind of photo editing software, you are effectively changing that image’s aspect ratio. There’s something to think about the next time you play around in Photoshop.

Note: If you have a image printed that you shot with a Point and Shoot camera, you'll likely have the top and bottom parts of your image cropped. This is because DSLR (and film) cameras use a 3:2 ratio where as your P&S camera uses a 4:3 ratio. Because these aren't the same, the printing company crops your image to compensate. Click the link for more details.

Why change the aspect ratio from the camera?

Most people change the aspect ratio from the camera because there is some sort of standard they need to conform to. But in most cases, it’s not necessary. That’s because most lenses are designed to work with your camera’s default aspect ratio settings. Increase it or decrease it slightly, and the camera might stretch the image to fit the new ratio. This can lead to some rather ugly distortions.

If you do need to change the aspect ratio, it’s much better to do so with photo editing software like Photoshop. Change the ratio using the crop tool. When you are cropping, you can select an aspect ratio for your rectangular selection tool. The tool won’t stray from the aspect ratio you’ve entered, making your cropped image conform to your new standard. This ultimately gives you more control over the resulting image, allowing you to compose it as you see fit.

To get started, click on the rectangular selection tool. It’s the one that looks like the image to the right. From the top menu, you can pick an aspect ratio by changing the “style” dropdown menu to “fixed aspect ratio.” Once you’ve done that, just place your aspect ratio in the boxes to the right.

Whatever selection rectangle you create will now conform to the aspect ratio you’ve placed in the boxes. Copy that selection from your original image (Edit/Copy), paste to a new image (File/New, then Edit/Paste) and save your image. Easy as that, and you have much more creative control.

A lot of cameras these days have extra settings and features that aren’t all that necessary. The ability to change the aspect ratio from the camera itself is one of them. When you use that setting, you risk ruining your pictures by stretching them to fit the aspect ratio you select. Cropping in Photoshop, or some other software, is the best solution as it allows you to see exactly what you’re getting, gives you more control, and does it without distorting your image in any way.

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  1. burt & ernie says:

    photoshop is no good as you need to fix every picture with crop/ aspect ratio, can you image watches, i am editing watches at the moment, client wants 400x481 ha ah ha

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