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Standard Image Ratios for Film and Digital Photography

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As a web designer, I try to follow standards from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It makes designing a web site much easier and compatible. This standardization also applies to photography. Many times, when listing images on my sites, like random images, I try to display them in a standard ratio.



Take for example the Jefferson Christian Academy web site that I designed for my high school alma mater. Visit one of the sub-pages like “Mission and Vision”. Notice on the left of the page. Random pictures display each time the page is refreshed. A standard picture ratio (and sometimes size) is very important in an application like this. Uniformity makes it easier to add pictures and make universal changes, if necessary.

The question is what is the standard ratio? Image ratios are a confusing field. At my local Wal-Mart, they print 3×5 4×6 5×7 8×10 and more for both analog (film) and digital prints. This troubled me because the ratios are all different for each size. What happens to the extra content in the picture? Does it get stretched or cropped? Either way, data is lost and the image is distorted.

After researching this, I’ve found there are two standard ratios. For film cameras, the natural ratio is usually 2:3 (or 3:2). So, any picture with a multiple of this ratio has little distortion and alteration. A 4×6 photo is a great standard size for this ratio. On the other hand, digital prints have a different ratio, 3:4 (or 4:3). This is because the ratio of most computer monitors fit this and digital pictures “ratioed” to fit full-screen on a computer perfectly. Unfortunately, I do not think there is a common print size for digital pictures that is not cropped or distorted.

So what ratio should be used on web sites? Well that depends on what is important to the web designer. I suggest that the film ratio of 2:3 should be used if compatibility with film cameras is important. If most pictures will come from a film camera, use 2:3. If you are a forward thinker, maybe the digital ratio of 3:4 is better. Film cameras will become absolute so you might as well conform with the future technology. Additionally, if most pictures are coming from a digital camera, it is better to go with a 3:4 ratio.

Though, I have one caution. As I mentioned previously, the digital camera ratio of 3:4 was standardized because it would fit perfectly on a normal computer monitor if it were enlarged to full-screen, much like a slide show presentation. Well, “normal” computer models are becoming more obsolete. The newer ones are now wide-screen. I just want to point out that since the computer monitors are getting wider, the digital camera standard ratio is prone to change. It could stay the same, go back to film ratio, or even conform to the wide-screen ratio.

Comment on your thoughts and suggestions on photography and web design ratios!

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Posted on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

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