Home > Photo Tips > Compact Camera Cropping Confusion

Compact Camera Cropping Confusion

Do you know what the most common question is that we get from compact camera owners? “Why did you cut the top off of all the heads in my pictures?” So I thought I’d take a stab at explaining aspect ratios by doing it with pictures rather than numbers. I can’t visualize a 4:3 ratio in my head, why should I expect anyone else to?

“I took this great picture of my little girls…



… and your lab cut their heads off!”

It’s confusing, isn’t it? But the problem isn’t in the lab and it’s not with the photographer either. The problem isn’t really in the camera, but that is where the confusion starts.

What causes our captured images to create cropped prints
is something called an aspect ratio. An aspect ratio is used to describe the relationship between the height and width of an image.

In the case of a compact camera, the height and width ratio isn’t the same as the ratio of a 4X6 print. So when a compact camera photographer orders a 4X6 there are two choices.

First choice: The original image can be equally enlarged in all directions until it fits the length of a 4X6 piece of paper. Since a 4X6 print has less height for it’s length compared to the compact camera image, we get cropped images that cut heads off.

Second choice: This isn’t really a choice at all. In order to cover the full 4X6 paper we could simply stretch the image to fill the sheet. As you see below, the results are just too poor to even consider this option. Now the girls look about half again wider than they really are.


The good news is that there are two simple solutions that can either reduce or eliminate the cropped image problem. If your preference is to continue making 4X6 prints, simply compose your images accordingly. Don’t place important details like people’s heads or the top of the St Louis Arch at the top of your frame.

Learn to allow space along the long edges of your images so that the 4X6 crop doesn’t remove important parts of your subjects. The image below illustrates this point. This is the original image with a 4X6 box superimposed on it.


The very best solution: Don’t order 4X6 prints! Order a print size that has the same aspect ratio as a compact camera image. So instead of 4X6’s, order 4X5.33 prints. (Four by five and a third)

The 4X5.33 print size will still fit into a 4X6 album pocket, it just won’t fill the space entirely. Most important, by ordering a 4X5.33 your prints will have all the same detail and information as your original image file because there is no cropping. Your print will look exactly like the image at the top of this entry.

Now, for those who are geometrically and fractionally inclined, a 4X6 print has an aspect ratio of 3:2 while a compact camera (and a few DSLR’s) have an aspect ratio of 4:3. But I like the pictures vs. math approach to this topic.

Oh, and I should add: 5X7 and 8X10 prints from compact cameras don’t show the same severity of cropping as a 4X6 print does.

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  1. December 11, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Sry for being off topic but which WordPress theme do you use? It’s looking awesome!!

    • December 12, 2009 at 7:57 am

      The theme is INove, but it has been slightly modified.

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