How to select the right image format

How to select the right image format

The right aspect/ratio sets the mood

Throughout the history of photography and film, there have always been a range of formats which were used to capture light. Some have succeeded, others either had or still have a more niche existence. In this regard, the image format can very deliberately be used as a stylistic device and, depending on the situation, influence the mood.

Confusion amongst the formats

Many camera users are initially confused when faced with image format, aspect ratio, image ratio or even format in their camera menu. Particularly in the case of many compact cameras, the user is spoilt for choice when it comes to the ratio between the long and the short side of an image. Is it better to use 4:3, 3:2 or even 16:9?

History of image format

A brief glance at the history of analogue photography will show that the small image format of 36x24 millimetres, i.e. a format of 3:2, has prevailed as the dominant size on the market. This has led, for example, to developments in printing such as the Postcard Standard of 10x15 centimetres or the larger poster size of 40x60. Medium-format cameras, however, tend to use the format 4:3. There are also corresponding standards for paper sizes.

How to select the right image format

Contemporary standards

Digital SLR cameras have adopted the 3:2 format with their sensors, while their little sisters usually take photographs in 4:3. If you have the choice and own a camera with a monitor, you can quickly get an idea of the various formats. In comparison to the more square appearance of the 4:3 mode, an image in 3:2 has a touch more elegance to it; the disadvantage, however, is that it doesn't make full use of the round optics of the lens.

Art or practice

When deciding on the appropriate format to use, keep in mind the purpose for which the photos are being taken. If you want to print the image immediately, then 3:2 is the format of choice. A good method for those still undecided is to first photograph a larger 4:3 format and crop the image afterwards to 3:2, perhaps even to 1:1 square.

How to select the right image format

The wider an image is, the more natural it appears to the human eye. The 16:9 wide format is also ideal for enlargement. This contemporary standard for TVs and monitors has the advantage that images do not have any distracting bars at the sides when viewed on these devices.

Panorama and other unconventional formats

If images are subsequently trimmed in order to create a better image composition, it often results in a format that does not correspond with any standard. Since paper is a medium that can be cut in any manner you like, this poses no major problems for us. Nowadays, many cameras and virtually all smartphones have practical panoramic functions or apps which can be used to create spectacular images whose formats are difficult to predict. You can then scroll through the photos on the computer at your leisure. However, you should bear in mind during printing that only particularly large prints are suitable here. Panoramic calendars make wonderful creative playgrounds.

Spoilt for choice

Professional photo service providers such as ifolor grant you a wide range of options when printing your images. Even 16:9 has risen from the ranks of the exotic to become the standard. Choosing the right image size depends largely on the camera used and – even more importantly – on your personal preferences, as well as on the additional processing done by the photographer or graphic artist. Format diversity results in creative freedom. It is therefore better to take your picture and edit it afterwards rather than lose an important detail.

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