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How to Crop Photos for Printing

Cropping can be an incredibly useful tool for your photography, and it is one that is often necessary if you are planning on printing your images. This post will explain aspect ratio and when you will need to crop to match your finished print size.

cropping aspect ratios on a photo of Tetons, Mormon Row
Photos via Boost Your Photography

Cropping and aspect ratio

Before you begin cropping your photographs, you need to understand aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is a comparison of the length and width of your image. For most DSLR digital cameras, that ratio is 2:3. For most point-and-shoot and phone cameras, that ratio is 3:4. Shooting in a square is an aspect ratio of 1:1.

If you do not already know the aspect ratio that you are shooting in, look at the height and width of one of your photographs in pixels and divide the height by the width. My camera records images that are 3648 by 5472 pixels, which is 0.667, for an aspect ratio of 2:3.

You need to know aspect ratio because different print sizes also have different aspect ratios. If you are shooting at 2:3 and want to print your photograph as a 4 x 6 inch print, then your printed image will exactly match your original photograph. But, if you want to print an 8 x 10 inch print, you will have to crop your image to match a different aspect ratio, 4:5.

cropping, crop for 8x10, Grand Tetons, Mormon Row

Your 2:3 original photograph would become an 8 x 12 inch print, so you will need to crop the equivalent of 2 inches off your image at that size. The image above shows the relative impact of that crop. The faded bars on the side represent the one inch on each side of the image that would have to be cropped out to print as an 8 x 10. (You do not have to crop the same amount off of each side, of course, but this is just one example.)

Shooting and cropping for wrapped canvases

This aspect ratio cropping is even more pronounced if you want to print a photograph as a wrapped canvas. Not only will you need to crop your image to fit the aspect ratio (a 16 x 20 canvas has the same aspect ratio as an 8 x 10), but you will also need to keep in mind that some of the edges of the image will be used to create the wrapped effect around the edge of the canvas.

Photograph of Mormon Row in the Grant Tetons showing loss for printing as a 16x20 wrapped canvas

This can create a problem if important parts of your image are near the edge of the frame. With the image above, you can see that part of the building and the tree are now wrapping around the edge of the canvas.

If you want to be successful when printing photographs on wrapped canvases, then you need to plan ahead while you are shooting. Leave some space around your main subject(s) and the frame of your photograph. You can always crop down a little bit later for the perfect image, but you cannot expand a photograph that was taken in too close.

Photograph of Mormon Row in the Grant Tetons showing loss for printing as a 16x20 wrapped canvas

Particularly if you are shooting images for a client, you want to make sure that they can utilize your photographs in a wide range of print sizes and aspect ratios. Aim for a range of close and wide compositions to give your clients, and yourself, options. Because I shot a range of different compositions, I could substitute a wider version of the scene (above) that would better lend itself to a wrapped canvas without losing any parts of the main subjects.

Pay attention to pixels and dpi

Any time you crop an image, you are making it smaller and losing pixels. The fewer pixels you have, the more limitations there will be on your maximum printed size. Many photographers recommend printing at a minimum resolution of 300 dots per inch. The problem with dpi is that dpi changes with both the amount of pixels you have as well as the size of your final print.

Dots per inch is a ratio of the number of pixels (dots) for each inch of your printed image. To determine the dpi of a given image, take the number of pixels on one side divided by the number of inches of the final print. For a photograph with 2400 x 3000 pixels, it would have a dpi of 300 when printed as an 8 x 10 but only a dpi of 150 as a 16 x 20.

Before printing, always double-check your dpi to make sure that you have adequate resolution to keep your photographs looking great.

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5 Comments

Craig A. Lance

Interesting. I have the Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D with a maximum 3:2 resolution of 5184×3456. I just sold my first enlargement last month, an 11×14 print (turned out awesome). I used Photoshop to export it to a 4267×3353 JPG at 300 dpi before sending it off to the printer. I did the math and at that resolution it would actually turn out to be 304.8 dpi. Yet EXIF metadata still reports 300 dpi. I guess it rounded down a bit. Where did the extra little pixels go?

So, I thought I’d try exporting (in Ps I’m using Save As…) cropped to 16×20 and see how what dpi it would decide on. I know my T4i isn’t able to make a print that size at 300 dpi. The EXIT metadata reports 209 dpi just as I calculated. I wonder how good it would look printed at 16×20? Now, if I could only find a buyer.

Reply
Lesa

Many companies will ask when printing an image on canvas for whether you want the image wrapped around the canvas sides or if you’d like for them to use an edge portion of the image to be duplicated and matched for the wrap. This will work for most images since the photographer rarely utilize an edge in such a way this is not possible. You lose none of the image to the wrap. If this option isn’t given by the company ask if it is. If the answer is no you might want to look for another printer who does.

Reply
Michael Colby

DPI and PPI are not equivalent terms

Dots per inch is a ratio of the number of pixels (dots) for each inch of your printed image.

PPI = Pixel Density, measurement of the pixel density (resolution) of an electronic image
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pixel_density

DPI = resolution number of dots per inch in a digital print and the printing resolution of a hard copy print dot gain
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dots_per_inch

(In printing) DPI (dots per inch) refers to the output resolution of a printer or imagesetter, and PPI (pixels per inch) refers to the input resolution of a photograph or image. DPI refers to the physical dot density of an image when it is reproduced as a real physical entity, for example printed onto paper.

1 pixel in the image is not necessarily (and mostly not) represented by 1 dot on the printed page.

Reply
mony

Thanks, Michael Colby, for this necessary idea

Reply
dilliprasad

I’m on the fence about this, while more customization is good, I have a feeling this is a “in-progress” update, it just feels incomplete and half-way there.
We use badge layout for apps on design approvals (visual projects), so the image being displayed is important. Old layout “feels like” it had larger images,
maybe because the images were cropped more loosely so it’s easier to tell which project it was at quick glance. Now the image is cropped closer, making it
harder to scan thru at quick glance. I find myself needing to click into the project more often than usual. Which makes the whole user experience less
efficient.
I have a couple suggestions that might make it work better:
1. Increase the height of the window the cover image is being displayed.
2. Let us to choose which image to be displayed as “cover” (like how Pinterest handles cover images of each board, was hoping for this for a long time)
3. Let us adjust which part of the image to show and how tight or loose the crop is (with a fixed window, let us move the image around and maybe enlarge or
shrink it to control what shows thru the window. Pinterest does a limited form of this, which is very useful in making the cover image relevant)
4. Allow Cover Image to be ordered in different hierarchy (currently every element can be ordered differently except the Cover Image, it seems to be stuck
in the 2nd spot, would like the option to set it on another spot in the layout. This one seems like an easy fix, since you guys allow that for every other
element already)

Reply

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