The Crop Factor…

First off, my apologies for the absenteeism yesterday.  After a really fun photo shoot with some friends in downtown Denver (more on that next week), I got home super late (by working standards – my shift is 7-4 and I need to take a bus an hour to get there…so I leave at 6, which means I am up at 5!), and went almost straight to bed!  Hopefully the content today will make up for this, because it’s time to talk about (cue fanfare music)…the crop factor!

Now, before anyone gets all uppity because sensor crop factors have been discussed ad infinitum, just relax, because this isn’t about sensors (well, a little, but indirectly).  I am talking about cropping your pictures in camera.  We all do it, often to improve composition, or to focus in on one area of an image – but what about those undesired crops?  What am I talking about?  I am talking about images where it looks really great “in camera” but when you go to print it, the native aspect ratio won’t work for the size you want to print to.  See, most SLR cameras (non-full frame anyway) have roughly an aspect ratio of 2:3.  This means that you can print at this ratio without losing anything in your image.  But, if you want to print at a different aspect ratio, then something has to be cropped out.

So, what aspect ratio will work with the 2:3 proportions? Who all remembers their grade school math?  All you have to do is multiply each side of the ratio by the same number.  So, prints that work are …

  • 2×3″ prints (2:3 x 1:1 = 2×3)
  • 4×6″ prints (2:3 x 2:2 = 4:6)
  • 6×9″ prints (2:3 x 3:3 = 6:9)
  • 8×12″ prints (2:3 x 4:4 = 8:12)

You get the gist…but here’s the thing – the only “standard” print size that really fits our native camera aspect ratio is the 4×6″ print.  What if we want an 8×10″ print?  Well, cropping is required then.  This means losing some of your image.  So, this also means that you need to think about this during image composition in camera – if you like it – and want to print it – remember to frame things so that the crop won’t lose key elements of the picture.  Here’s a perfect example:


I took the above shot on a trip down in Isla Mujeres.  I absolutely love this shot.  The problem is that my proportions are lost when I crop to print an 8×10.  Take a look at the 8×10 crop:


It still looks pretty good, and I love the colors still, but some of the impact has been lost by cropping out the frame on both the left and the right.  See how the brown “framing element” has been lost?  I could have cropped less on that side and more on the orange side (even though the orange side is still cropped to a degree), but hopefully you’ll see the difference easily enough because it’s really the orange, yellow and blue that I think are the fundamental colors that hold my eye for this shot.  Suffice to say, I still loved it enough to print and frame an 8×10…but that’s not the point here.

The point is to try and remember to frame your composition in camera with “the crop factor” in mind.   By taking these measures into consideration, you can really have many more printable memories.  So, when you go out shooting this weekend, keep the crop factor in mind.  Happy shooting, enjoy the weekend, and we’ll see you back here on Monday!

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5 comments for “The Crop Factor…

  1. Al
    February 6, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I have to be honest. I like the cropped image better. You lose some of the framing element you mentioned, but the object in the top left is distracting . Either way, good post and thanks for the advice!

  2. February 6, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Indeed you’ve got a point here. On the EOS-1D Mark III cameras you can set an aspect ratio frame. This works with the Canon software to show the crop, but also shows the image with crop bars on the LCD preview and in Live View mode. Sometimes I’ve found this can help with cropping for print size when I’m composing shots.

    Also shooting a wedding I knew all the prints required needed to be 10×8 so I set the 4×5 aspect ratio in the EOS-1D Mk III and could see all the crops as shot and make my life easier when it came to processing the RAW images in DPP. I wish other applications (and cameras) could do the same!

  3. February 7, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    He, I know this place! I have been to Isla Mujeres a few years ago and have friends who live there (the Vet).
    Same water as Cancun at a fraction of the price…

    BTW, great shot & color contrast. For your issue you should use the stretching tool available in PS CS4, it would do wonders!

  4. February 7, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    @Al – in retrospect, I did think that perhaps I picked the wrong image to illustrate the point, but glad you were able to appreciate it regardless! 🙂

    @Blab – that’s a neat feature to have – nice to know that Canon does include that in the higher-end model bodies!

    @Alain – I was thinking about putting some disclosure note in there about how content aware scaling in CS4 could be beneficial, but the idea behind the post was that composing in camera to compensate for cropping after the fact is something that is a good exercise for us all because it encourages us to think more about how we compose our shots and hopefully that will lead to better composition overall in our photography. But, nevertheless, you made a good point! 🙂 Funny how a small world it is if we’ve both been to the same resort…go figure! 🙂

  5. February 9, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I have found composing in camera to be a VERY hard habit to break! I never learn my lesson, regardless of how many 8x10s I have trouble with.

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