How Aspect Ratios Affect the Look of Your Pictures


When you say the word “photograph” to people, with the exception of square-cropping Instagrammers, most of us think of rectangles. This is because most consumer cameras produce photographs in the form of rectangles with aspect ratios of 2:3 or 4:3. The problem is that while most photographs fit well into these camera-defined format restraints, some images work better as squares—or elongated rectangles—depending on the subject or the layout of the photograph’s intended purpose.

To see how the shape of our camera’s frame lines affect the way we see photographically, we compared photographs taken with a full-frame 35mm camera (2:3 aspect ratio) with a pair of vintage film cameras that have aspect ratios other than the 2:3 and 4:3 configurations typically found on modern consumer cameras, or smartphones, for that matter. Photographs that were taken with the Hasselblad SWC Superwide and XPan II were captured on Fujifilm Provia F and scanned using an Epson Perfection V800 Photo Scanner.

For our first comparison, we paired a Sony a7R II with a 21mm f/4.5 T* ZM lens with a Hasselblad Superwide SWC, a square format (60 x 60mm), medium-format film camera with a fixed 38mm f/4.5 Biogon T*.

Hasselblad SWC Superwide with 38mm lens and Sony a7R II with 21mm lens

What the abovementioned camera/lens combinations have in common is that they each capture pictures with 90-degree diagonal angles of view, albeit in the form of rectangles and squares. The pictures are similar, yet simultaneously quite different from one another.



The same scenes captured using a Sony a7R II with a 21mm lens (2:3 aspect ratio) and a Hasselblad SWC Superwide with a 38mm lens (1:1 aspect ratio)

For our second comparison we paired the Sony a7R II, this time with a 25mm Voigtlander Color-Skopar 25mm f/4 lens, and a Hasselblad XPan II Panorama Rangefinder—a dual-format 35mm film camera that, in addition to traditional 24 x 36mm slides and negatives, allows you to also capture 24 x 65mm wide-field (1:2.78) photographs.

Hasselblad XPan II with 45mm lens and Sony a7R II with 25mm lens

In panorama mode, the XPan II with a 45mm Hasselblad XPan-series lens has the same 84-degree diagonal angle of view as the Sony a7R II (2:3 aspect ratio) with a 21mm lens, although, in this case, stretched out over a wider field. Once again, the resulting pictures are similar, yet quite distinct from one another.



The same scenes captured using a Sony a7R II with a 25mm lens (2:3 aspect ratio) and a Hasselblad XPan II with a 45mm lens (1:3 aspect ratio)

Although the XPan is a 35mm camera, the three XPan-series lenses (30mm, 45mm, and 90mm) have image circles with circumferences wide enough to cover a 6 x 7 medium format frame. You might say the XPan is a medium-format camera in 35mm clothing.

While we were at it, we also captured comparable photographs using the Hasselblad SWC Superwide (left side, below) and Hasselblad XPan II (right side, below), two cameras made by the same company that deliver images that couldn’t be more different from one another.




As for choosing which photograph from each of the above series as the so-called best of the bunch—that is a tough one to qualify. Some ratios clearly don’t work while others are a toss-up. When comparing the same subject framed to accommodate differing aspect ratios, you have to consider the end-use purpose of the pictures.

Aesthetics aside, what’s the purpose of the given photograph? Is it intended for use in an advertisement, a billboard, a web banner, or perhaps a magazine cover or spread? Do you need to leave room for headlines, pull-quotes, body text, or is the picture purely about filling a wide open wall in your living room? In the first instance, images with open space, such as skies, are ideal for headlines and body copy. The photograph might initially appear stark, but once the text is in place, it comes together graphically.

In a perfect world, rather than being constrained to the confines of a camera’s predetermined aspect ratios (2:3, 4:3, 1:1, 6:45, etc.), we would be able to dial-in the aspect ratio of every picture we take based on the height and width measurements that create the best image composition. Until that time, we’ll have to settle for cropping our 2:3 and 4:3 rectangles to aspect ratios that best fit the image.

Do you have a favorite camera format? Do you prefer rectangles or do square format images “talk” to you more? Please share your preference in the Comments section, below.

For further information, read the B&H Explora article, Tips for Composing with Different-Format Cameras.


Cropping is just downright stupid. :(

Casting aspersions without substance, context, or meaning is simply stupid bigotry.

I've been shooting 35mm 2:3 for ever.  However, sometimes I see a different ratio in the shot that will enhance it, and I crop it accordingly.  Unfortunately that eliminates some of the resolution of the full frame, and I have to have a smaller print to retain details without losing any quality.  For a little while I shot with a Mamiya 645 that gave me 4:5 ratios and a larger overall frame.

Before going digital, Fuji Provia was one of my favorite films because of its color accuracy, very small grian and excellent reciprocity performance in long exposures.

I've been photographing in 35mm (full frame) since 1980. After I got interested in photography, I've been coveting medium format cameras. My bucket list cameras are the Mamiya 645 and RZ67 and I also want to try my hand at large format photography.

I am a painter and love to print my photos but most of the paper  is .772 or  aprox 4:5 so I always have to crop or cut ... for the 2:3, 3:4, 6:9 etc. ratios on whatever camera I use ....


As a photographer residing within an archipelago for the last three decades, cropping to 16:9 is my preferred aspect ratio for both print and web pages. I think and see within a marine environment dominated by horizon line and sky. Whether underwater or on terrestrial island environments, my eye keeps begging for inclusivity, tying myriad disparate elements into wholeness, community, and interrelated connectivity through horizontal planes of experience.

The more time I spend in this mind blowing place, the more I realize we are, as bipeds, predisposed to getting our information from horizontal planes as the most efficient  means and methods of gaining the most essential points of awareness in complex visual fields through the scan.

Kudos to you for pondering the human involvement factor and coming up with an articulated reasoning. Bi-lateral symmetry has a lot to do with a lot of things.

I shoot square (Hasselblad 500 C/M and 2000 FC/M on 6 X 6)  and 6 X 4.5 on a Mamiya 645 AFD.   I shoot mostly 2 X3 aspect ration with Sony Alpha DSLT products.  I like each aspect ratio.  

Thank you, for illustrating the differences obtained on the same scene when using different aspect ratios. 

Alan, for some reason, I have missed your technical discussions.  i always look forward to them as you have a fantastic manner in explaining things that make them easy to understand.  

I have been a loyal customer of B & H for almost 40 yrs. and I have never been more pleased with them than any merchant that I have ever dealt with. 


Thank you... I'll try my best to keep 'em coming...

And your customer loyalty is much appreciated!


I like squares if the picture allows. I shoot the picture and decide in post-processing what best suits the look and feel of the image. 

It's an interesting comparison, but the article could have given so much more. For instance, the history of photography has 'trained" the human eye to feel comfortable with the aspect ratios that traditional formats present. The article briefly touches upon the "horses for courses" idea - magazine layouts are one of the few places where non-standard cropping "works", when photographs are part of a page layout where different elments of text, heading, photos, advertising and shoutouts all compete for space yet should make a coherent whole that is pleasing to the eye and easy to read through.

About the only other place that non-standard cropping works is in pure art terms, on a gallery wall, and in most instances, individual works are placed within a gallery space with considered regard to the shapes of the wall themselves, negative space, whitespace and so forth.

What about social media, where the wider your photograph, the less dynamic it can be within the screen layout of the particular environment? For instance, on Tumblr, wider shots that should have great impact are diminished because of the resizing of the script that determines a streamlined page experience. 1 x 1 crops look very dynamic and "in your face" on Tumblr, where in other environments they are less so. In the same place, portrait crops can extend above and below the reach of the screen unless you zoom out your screen which then makes the landscape shots ridiculously "small".

For a photographer in action there is the decision of whether you intend to crop in post or not. Is cropping less of a "pure" experience, is it a sloppy fall-back? It depends on your point of view. Cindy Sherman cropped, and HCB pretty much didn't (don't quote me), and I like the work of both photographers. Personally, I do and sometimes I don't - but at the same time as I will crop any shot on either film or digital if it works and makes a better photo, I can't see the point in putting on a 6 x 9 filmback and going out to shoot with heavy crop in mind. I would crop if it made the photo, but why am I shooting with a 6 x 9 back? Do you shoot with such a thing and go out looking for things that fit the frame? Can you always use your feet to compensate? Yes and no.

I would like to see this article appear again at a later date with a lot more depth that covers all these things.

Valid comments indeed and I certainly coiuld have gone on with the subject but we try to keep to 1200-words, which according to those who spend their days pondering thses issues seems to be an 'optimum' length for these venues.

Thanks for your thoughts Jack!


Thanks for the article - I think I recognized one location . . . Riis Park?

I have several vintage cameras with different formats. It all comes down to what you see when the camera's viewfinder is placed in front of your eye. Each format requires a different way of seeing/composing a scene.  Sometimes, I'll have an idea for a capture and choose what I hope will be the appropriate camera.  Othertimes, I just get the urge to use a particular camera and see what I can capture.

Riis Park? Good guess, but it's actually about a mile north of Riis (somewhere in the '90's'), anf I'm with you on your other points.

Thanks Scott!


In my opinion the aspect ratio of a particular picture is irrelevant when taking the picture, if the content and composition will accomodate the use. I have no aversion to changing the aspect ratio of an image to correct either composition or content. I believe the true use of the aspect ratio in an image is only important if the image is being used for another purpose such as an illustration or advertisement where it is critical to "fill the screen" with the proper content.

One of my favorite photos is a panoramic that prints best at 11" high and 108" long. That's about 1 : 9.8 aspect ratio.

Thanks for this very good article.  As you stated, the purpose of the image is what will determine the aspect ratio.  Coming from a square world in my film days, I love square format and I often see the square image on my rectangular LCD screen and crop (in camera) to accomodate the square image so that I can crop in processing to produce the square final image.  

Thanks for the kudos John.

Interstingly, it took me years to get used to shooting in a square format but these days I'm comfortable square and otherwise.



This is not a fair comparison. In almost every instance the wider photo works better. But what about vertical shots? What about applying this test to portraits? Nice excercise but really shallow in depth, you only scratched the surface. Also, kinda fruitless in the end because when shooting on the fly we sometimes do not have time to compose or pick a format, thank you high pixel count sensors. This is coming from a guy who printed only with filed film carriers in the darkroom to prove the images was composed in camera. Anyway, it was a fun read at least. 

Glad to hear you at least had fun reading my article.

I too used to use filed negative carriers and forv the same reasons as yourself.

These days however I allow the image to determine the borders of the frame and so far nobody's been seriously injured as a result.