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Thursday, November 3, 2011

8x10 Prints and Cropping

I've run into a couple situations over the past month that have inspired this blog post. The topic is something I didn't know until I became a photographer, and I'm guessing a lot of you may not know about it either.

Have you ever gone to print one of your photos into an 8x10" print and when you get it back, you wonder why it looks different that the photo did in your camera? Or maybe someone on the edge of the photo was cut out of the 8x10 print?

What the heck happened, right? I'm here to tell you why that happened!

Here's the explanation in the simplest terms I can come up with. Hold on to your hats:

Most cameras take photos that will print as perfect 4x6 sized prints. That's the most commonly printed size, so that's why most cameras have their print ratio as a 4x6 size.

Here's where the math comes in. A 4x6 print can be enlarged into an 8x12 print right? Each side is just doubled in length. 4[x2] by 6[x2] = 8x12. That means that an 8x12 inch print should look exactly like your 4x6 print does, except it's just 4 times bigger.

Flash back to junior high math?? Each side is 2 times longer, so the whole photo is 2x2 or 4 times larger.

So! What does that mean for an 8x10 inch photo?

You got it! The 8x12 inch photo has to have 2 inches cut off in order to make it an 8x10.

Here are some visual examples.

Here is a 4x6 photo from one of this summer's sessions. This is what the print looked like without any cropping; it came out of my camera framed like this.

Now, if I wanted to make this print into an 8x10 size, that means I am going to lose 2 inches of this photo. Those 2 inches can come off of either end.
So the end result, the 8x10 print you ordered would now look like the middle section of this photo, with the shaded areas cut off to make the 8x12 print now a 8x10. Make sense?

What about a 5x7 print? Making a 5x7 print requires some cropping too, just not as much as an 8x10 does. Here's how much you'd lose if this print was made into a 5x7.
Sometimes, like in the case of the photo above, losing some of the edge of the photo doesn't really make a different. No one is getting cut off, and I can choose which side of the photo gets cropped on, so I can somewhat choose the composition of the final photo. But other times, you run the risk of altering the final photo. Take this photo for example.
In this photo, there isn't as much empty or "negative" space on the edges of the photo. When we crop in to make an 8x10 print, we end up cropping off the arms of the dad and son. Not the end of the world - all the faces are still visible. The photo looks different than it did as a 4x6 though.
Sometimes, a photo can't be made into an 8x10 without completely altering the photo. The photo below is one of those cases. The 4x6 is framed to intentionally have the family at the lower left corner, and to show the entire length of the towers of the incinerator in the background. See what happens when an 8x10 is made? Either the people are going to be cut out to keep the tallest tower or the tower is going to be lost to keep the people. The intentional composition of the original photo is really altered.
What would I do if I needed to make this into an 8x10? I would take 90% of the necessary inches off the top, which will result in the tallest tower losing it's top. A small bit of the bottom edge could be lost as well, as long as no feet are cut off in the process. The result would look very different than the original, but it would still be a great photo.

Sometimes, an 8x10 simply can't be made without compromising the photo. I don't have an example for you to look at right now, but imagine a huge family photo, with say 50 people stretched from the very left edge of the frame to the far right side of the photo. Any cropping at all will result in people's heads getting cropped out. What do you do? In that case, I would either print it as a 4x6 or try to print in one of the print sizes that fit the original 4x6 ratio. Those are: 4x6, 8x12, 12x18, 16x24, or 20x30. Any of those print sizes will not require any cropping and will look exactly like the photo you see as the original.

It's unfortunate that the most common frames sold in stores are 8x10 sized frames. This means that we have to crop our photos down to an 8x10 or else spend way more on a custom frame.

How do you prevent the risk of wrecking a photo with cropping?

The solution comes at the time of actually taking the photo. The solution to cropping off people's heads in the imagined photo of 50 people would be to scoot further back from your crowd and include some extra or negative space on either end. That will allow for the cropping necessary to make an 8x10 but you won't be needing to crop out people. You would just crop out the grass, trees or whatever the extra is on each end.

Does that make sense? Did I lost you at "ratio"?

If I mixed anything up or lost you, let me know! I'll try my best to clarify. I think it's important for people to be aware of this because it affects the end result when you are printing or enlarging photos. 

When you are making 5x7, 8x10 or 11x14 prints, keep this in mind so you don't have any unexpected surprises like lost faces or cut off arms when you get your photos back.

Happy shooting and Happy November!


  1. Great post Laura! Thanks! Ummm if you have a DSLR or maybe some other camera with more options, can you change the picture ratio when you take the pic so it comes out looking exactly right in a 8X10? Like lets say with that group shot with 50 people....do some cameras have the option of changing the settings so they pic will print perfectly as an 8X10 if that's what you know you would want the picture printed as? Hmmm hope that made sense, I'm not sure how else to describe it. LOL! I however thought your explanation was crystal clear!!!

  2. Hi Bonnie! Great question!

    To my knowledge, the 4x6 ratio is built into the cameras. I believe it's maybe Pentax or Olympus that has a different photo ratio; one closer to an 8x10 size. The alternative to that though is if they want to have a 4x6 print, they will require cropping to make the 4x6.

    So the short answer is no, there isn't any way to set that as a setting. It's built into your camera.

    I think. :)

    My best suggestion is if you are shooting something that you think might be made into an 8x10, to include some extra on the edges of the photo. Especially if it's a large group shot, like the 50 people. Don't stretch them from the right to the left all the way to the edges.

    When I'm shooting weddings, I'll take two shots. One that is further back with lots of extra space to be cropped off if they want to make an 8x10. And a second that is nice and close. Best of both worlds!

  3. Ooooohh! Awesome! Thanks for answering! So this leads me to another question. Does cropping or resizing a photo change the quality? Like lets say you have an 8 megapixel camera....when you crop or re-size does it change the quality or clarity of the photo?

  4. You are so right,Laura. Last year I had a 5x7 photo made of the picture you took of my parents and their children with their spouses, their grandchildren and spouses and their great-grandchildren at their 60th wedding anniversary. (There were 51 of us.)On the 5x7 each person on the end was clipped off. I was told at the photo dept. at Walgreens it was because the picture was made in a 4x6 format.

  5. Josh`n`charitysmithMarch 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Thank you for your advice on framing 8x10 with your camera while reading your blog we got inspired and put black tape on the sides of our lcd display and framed the camera ourselves now we can train ourselves to keep the photo in the box so we can crop later and not crop off any main parts your website is inspiring i am saving you to my favorites so i will deffentaly explore it more.. Josh `n` Charity Smith

  6. Thanks, guys! Your idea of the tape to train yourself is genius!! It's hard to train yourself to think that way at first but it gets easier. Glad you stopped by the blog and I hope you'll be back! xo!


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