Updated: Dec 15, 2022
I was asked a question a couple of times recently about my panorama gallery and why some had 3:1 or 2:1 next to it, what it meant and why I used it so I thought I would explain it on this blog.
The numbers relate to the picture aspect ratio, simply put 3:1 ratio means 3 times the length of the width, 2:1 for example would be 2 times the length of the width and so on.
The first number always represents the width rather than the height no matter if its landscape or portrait orientation.
For example a 3:2 ratio would be landscape orientation but a 2:3 would be a portrait orientation, although both would be identical aspects, still with me ?
So why use different aspect ratios and how can it benefit your pictures ?
Most people will be shooting with a 3:2 ratio as a standard default set up within their camera and with good reason too. Not only was it the default sizing for film cameras but 3:2 will fit nicely onto most standard paper sizes, ie A3, A4 etc...
it works well for standard picture sizing and framing so why use anything different right ?
The way you frame your picture will have a huge impact on just how effective it is in the composition and certain scenes lend themselves to different ratios.
To give you an idea here is the same picture cut down to the individual ratios so you can see how it is transformed, all the pictures have had ratios applied to them from the centre so this isn't how I would normally crop them, its purely to show the difference in size.
So which is the best ratio to use ? Well again this is dependant on the format and output you intend to use it for.
If you are printing your work the 3:2 lends itself very well to this format, for example a 6x4 picture uses a 3:2 aspect ratio but if you are filming for example then a 16:9 ratio may well be better as this is now an almost standard for a widescreen TV.
If you are shooting for social media then it becomes fairly messy as each platform seems to utilise a different format and therefore aspect ratio.
The optimal ratios for each platform are......
Facebook (Post Picture) 1200px x 628px (1.9:1 Ratio)
Twitter (Post Picture) 1200px x 675px (16:9 Ratio)
Instagram This is where it gets complicated !
1:1 Ratio for a perfectly square picture which will show in your profile feed perfectly BUT for scrolling a 4:5 ratio would fill the screen better.
So with so many different ratios used across common platforms what should you use ?
Well it all boils down to one thing, if you're going to post across multiple platforms then you are going to have to crop at some point and for this in my opinion the best ratio is 3:2 cropped down according to the platform, although on things like Instagram you can still post this ratio without it being cropped, you will just have the gaps at the top and bottom that we all hate so much and your profile feed will only show a 1:1 version of what you post.
3:2 suits more purposes than any other ratio in my opinion and its as close to the sensor size on a full frame camera too so you can utilise the maximum available pixels of the sensor.
Another misconception here is if you switch the aspect ratio in your camera then you will retain the full amount of megapixels in the shot from the sensor size, you won't.
To explain further if you have a 30 megapixel sensor and you take a 3:2 which utilises nearly all of them then this image will be 30 megapixels for example but if you change the ratio in camera to 1:1 you don't get a 30 megapixel image, more like low 20s as the camera is still cropping it.
Whats the point of changing the ratio then ? Well it can be a great compositional aid to help you get the best from your scene and can help you to visualise how it will look, but for me that's it, its a visual aid only.
I would sooner take the 3:2 image and retain the maximum amount of pixels and then if I need to change the aspect ratio I will do it on the computer later on as I have more pixels to be flexible with.(worth noting here, on most cameras if you change the aspect ratio you will still end up with a 3:2 raw file as it retains full data, JPGS however will be in the selected crop so you lose the data)
Now you will notice the first two ratios I have pictured are 3:1 and 2:1 and you won't find these on your camera, simply because they are stitched panoramas and actually multiple images shot at 2:3 ratio then put together and cropped.
The reason for shooting 2:3 rather than 3:2 is because I can get the maximum number of pixels and detail across the image like that and be more focussed on areas I want to shoot.
You can however do 3:2 versions if you like, its a personal choice.
I have found myself recently shooting a lot more with different aspect ratios in mind, mainly panoramas but also a lot of 1:1 images simply because I love the uniformity of a square, but more often than not deciding it aids the composition more and frames the focussed subject better and I urge you to have a go with it yourself as you can get rid of some of the outer "filler" areas in some shots and give you a cleaner, distraction free image.
Of course this doesn't work for all images and is a subjective thing but try it for yourself to see if it suits you.
I have seen a big trend for 1:1 ratios in recent times mainly down to the popularity of things like Instagram but also because a wall full of 1:1 squares looks very attractive and uniform, a design trend which seems to be gaining traction too.
Others have also asked if certain ratios are needed for creating memorable, physical photo albums or scrapbooks, but I believe this shouldn't be a huge issue, since nowadays you can customize most picture books online without much hassle, and they usually support wide array of ratios for different pages
Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of aspect ratios and how they can help your landscape photography go to new levels and I urge you to experiment with them to give you different compositions and maybe something a little better than the standard shot.
Next time you frame up your shot pay special attention to the edges of the frame and consider if they are bringing anything to your shot, If the answer is no then consider using a different aspect ratio to enhance your chosen subject, I guarantee you there will be some shots that it really works for and you will be glad you did.
As always, Happy shooting