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Why the Photo Lab Cropped Your Image

It’s happened to everyone, even professionals.  That perfect portrait of your niece comes back from the photo lab – but the head is cropped right above the eyebrows.

This is not the effect that was intended!  What went wrong?  The original shot had all her fingers, both feet, and even her head.

What to do?  First, a diagnosis.  Two things happened here: the shot was taken without enough room around the subject, and the wrong size print was ordered.  I’m obviously never going to re-capture this moment with my niece, who is now seven years old.  However, there are a few things that can be done to get the whole image on my print.

Order the Right Print Size 

Images are cropped when a customer orders a print size that is a different aspect ratio, or length of rectangle, than the photograph they are printing.  The most common problem is ordering an 8x10 (which is a 4:5 ratio, like the top image) when the original image is from a 35mm negative or a DSLR camera (which have an aspect ratio of 2:3, like the uncropped image of my niece above).  The image is longer than the print, so about two inches get cut off the length in this scenario.

We cannot just fit the image into any size or it will come out distorted:

Cropping is standard in almost every lab.  At Pro Photo Supply we try to crop your images for the best composition, usually meaning that we try to get the top of the head in the print if possible.  However, many labs just crop to the middle – no matter how it looks. If you don’t want it cropped at all, there are several options for you:

  • Print another size.  In this case, 8x12 will fit the entire image.
  • Ask your lab to print the image "full frame with a border" on an 8x10.  The image will be reduced to a smaller size and printed on the 8x10 sheet.  A white border will appear all the way around the image, but nothing will be cropped.
  • Ask the lab to print the image "full frame with bars" on an 8x10.  White bars will appear on the sides of the image.  There will be a little bit of cropping on the top and bottom because the machine will bleed the image over the edge

Let’s say that neither of these options works for you.  Ask your lab if they can do a custom size print.  Some places may not be able to accommodate this request, but other labs will.  Pro Photo Supply often does custom size prints.

Compose the Images for any Crop 

The other option is to choose another shot that has more room around the subject.  After years of being a portrait photographer and learning to chase down little kids at the same time as quickly composing a shot, I learned to shoot more like this:

When I shoot like this, I don’t have cropping issues.  This image can be printed 4x6 (the original 2:3 ratio), 5x7, 8x10, or almost anything I want.  The transparent white lines show the 8x10 crop, which is usually the most severe crop you will get unless you’re printing square.

What Sizes Can I get with this Crop?

The next logical question is: what other sizes you can get with the same crop?  Here’s a handy chart for you to use to determine what aspect ratio to crop your image to.

The list of sizes can go on from there.  You can calculate any size as a multiple of the aspect ratio.   For instance, using the 1:1.5 ratio, you want a print that’s 6 inches on the short side.

6 x 1.5 = 9

Your new size is 6x9.  

Now that you know how to avoid cropping the head and fingers off  your loved ones, you can feel confident ordering more prints.

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