So you went out on the beach and took some awesome pictures of your kids at the beach and after sitting down and editing them on a computer you decide "I totally need to get this printed for my wall!" or "This is going to be my Christmas card!". You go to the nearest lab to you and make your prints, only to notice, they might not look exactly the same as they did on your computer or maybe half of a persons face has been cropped out. I've been there. I didn't understand print sizes and how printers and labs can make the same image vary in the way they look and probably threw more money down the drain than I care to admit. I hope this small blog series can help you save money and not make the same mistakes I did so you can decorate your home with fabulous images that make you smile on the daily!

In this three part piece, I first want to go over print sizes and aspect ratios. Contrary to most consumer belief, most of our devices don't shoot in a normal printing format. DSLR & SLR cameras are the most likely to shoot the exact 4x6 format. I say most likely because you are allowed to change settings in your camera but most people leave it as is. Digital point and shoot cameras vary from keeping the same 4x6 format to shooting a little bit more square or wide. Some phones tend to make long, narrow pictures. You don't really figure this out until you take a picture where maybe there is a person a little bit too close to the edge of the frame and they get cropped in some weird way.

I remember going to print some landscape photos from my first point and shoot camera and going to the store and noticing there was a red line around all my pictures. I was told I either had to select where to crop or the machine would crop it for me. I was so confused why my pictures had to be cropped. Like why would they make a camera that doesn't fit the normal printing sizes? I'm honestly not sure why (if you do please let me know!) but it is what it is. I learned that certain sizes required more cropping than others and I just had to be aware when I was making prints.

When you look at a set of print sizes, it is normal to see 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, & 11x14 as your beginning sizes. What you don't really realize til it's in your hand that these are not equivalent aspect ratios. People tend to think that a 5x7 and 8x10 are simply just bigger versions of the same picture. But when you hold a 4x6, it is a lot longer than that of an 8x10. You need to crop down a 4x6 sized image to fit the ratio of a 8x10, sometimes it feels like there is no way to keep all the things you want in it.

Don't worry, you aren't alone. I used to work at a lab, and you don't know how many times, people would make an order for a 8x10 of an image and I'd ask if they'd like a border so we could keep the image intact or no border and let us crop it down. Most of the time they would tell us have no border but when they saw the result, they wouldn't like it because the image seemed squished or missing a detail they wanted in the image. In all honesty, I don't have these memorized either so don't feel bad if you've made this mistake or if you feel like you need to look it up again often. I'm right there with ya!

All in all, this is my reason number 1 to work with a professional photo lab.

By working with a professional lab, you are likely working with a place that allows you to make those crops yourself and is very honest and upfront if something isn't going to work. Most quick 1 hour print places aren't going to make you aware of this problem unless you are the one checking the screen. Once you send your order, their automatic printer does the rest. All the workers do is keep the machine working and package your order for pick up.

I want to leave this post off with a few quick tips for future printing and photographing :

  1. If you still choose to go the quick printing route, please just check for anywhere in your uploading for any cropping lines that may appear in your previews as well as any pop up windows that may be trying to make you aware theres a problem.
  2. It is best to assume you may need to crop sooner or later. When you take pictures, make sure that you are leaving a little bit extra space all around your edges so that if you do need to crop, you hopefully are just cropping out the dead space rather than people or important objects. Tight crops will be the end of you.
  3. If you don't want to crop, always check if there is an option to have a border around your images. Putting a border on will keep your image in tact. This may seem a little strange at first but honestly the more I see it, the more I love it! I make all my prints with a small border even if they are at the correct aspect ratio. I feel like it just adds a cute little aspect to it :)

I made a quick list of Aspect Ratios with their equivalent print sizes for your printing reference