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Let’s take a closer look at the aspect ratios of the photo together with professional photographer Nazim Mansurov and find out what everyone needs to know about all this.

Understanding the aspect ratio in photography
Many modern smartphones have a native 4: 3 aspect ratio on the resulting images. Image taken on iPhone X @ 4mm, ISO 40, 1/15, f / 1.8

What is aspect ratio?

In photography, the aspect ratio is the ratio between the width and height of the image.

Understanding the aspect ratio in photography
General proportions in the photo

The aspect ratio is often determined by the form factor of the film / camera image sensor, which is almost always rectangular. The most common proportions of modern digital camera sensors are 3: 2 and 4: 3. All modern APS-C full-frame and SLR cameras have sensors with an aspect ratio of 3: 2, while 4: 3 is a popular choice among smartphones, Micro Four Thirds and some manufacturers of medium-format cameras.

Understanding the aspect ratio in photography
Some cameras allow you to select different aspect ratios in the camera menu, providing cropping options different from the original image sensor.

When the aspect ratio is expressed by two numbers separated by a colon, the first number usually refers to the horizontal side of the image, and the second number refers to the vertical. For example, 3: 2 denotes a horizontal image obtained in landscape orientation. And 2: 3 will be considered a vertical image obtained in portrait. When the aspect ratio is expressed in decimal numbers, such as 1.50 or 1.50: 1, it ignores the orientation of the image.

Why aspect ratio is important

Understanding the aspect ratio in photography
Nikon CMOS sensors have a 3: 2 aspect ratio

Understanding the basics of aspect ratio is very important because it affects the final image. This can be especially important during the physical capture of a photograph. For example, if you shoot an image using a camera with its own 4: 3 aspect ratio and squeeze your object or important elements of the scene into the edges of the frame, you cannot crop the image with wider proportions. Look at the following image.

As you can see, the image was taken at 4: 3, and the photographer was barely able to squeeze the building, as well as the foreground structure into the frame. Although this worked at the end of this particular shot, there is simply no way to crop the image so that it matches any other aspect ratio without cropping into the building or foreground element.

The same goes for the choice of extremely wide image formats when the camera crop the top and bottom of the frame, as in the photo below:

Understanding the aspect ratio in photography
This image was obtained in the 16: 9 aspect ratio of Cappadocia, Turkey. Shot with DJI Mavic Pro @ 10.26 mm, ISO 100, 1/60, f / 5.6

When Nazim used the DJI Mavic Pro drone in Cappadocia, Turkey, he forgot that he set up the camera to shoot 16: 9 images, so he got a bunch of wide images like the photo you see above. Unfortunately, since the top and bottom of the image were cropped (even when shooting in RAW format), I had to crop the edges of the image a bit to get 3: 2 or 4: 3. Look at what changing these proportions will do with the image above.

Understanding the aspect ratio in photography
The same image showing what happens during cropping with an aspect ratio of 3: 2 and 4: 3

As you can see 4: 3 is definitely a bad option, as it crashes into foreground elements. If the photographer captured this image in his native 4: 3 format for starters, he could have avoided this problem.

That’s why it is very important to pay attention to the proportions when composing and cropping pictures – always provide enough “breathing space” around the subject if your ultimate goal is to have more cropping options later.

Native ratio versus camera selection

The aspect ratio is often determined by the camera’s image sensor, which is “native” to it. However, some cameras give photographers the ability to choose different proportions.

Understanding the aspect ratio in photography Understanding the aspect ratio in photography

For example, Nikon Z7 allows you to choose between the following:

FX (36 × 24)
DX (24 × 16)
5: 4 (30 × 24)
1: 1 (24 × 24)
16: 9 (36 × 20)
Please note that the first two parameters have a 3: 2 format (FX 36 × 24 and DX 24 × 16), since this is the native aspect ratio of the sensor on this camera (the second option is for cropping the central part of the image to simulate Nikon APS-C camera sensors / Dx). All other parameters, such as 5: 4, 1: 1 and 16: 9, are not built-in, which means that selecting any of them will crop a part of the image.

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