August 25, 2022

Cropping Guide & Common Print Sizes | Printing Your Photos

framed professional print photographer northern virginia photo

Cropping Guide & Common Print Sizes | Printing Your Photos

Have you ever gone to print a photo and been confused why it crops? It might automatically cut off the edge of the photo leaving you wondering – why does this happen? And what can I do about it?

It happens because cameras take photos at a certain ratio, but common prints are in a different ratio. To create the print, the photo has to be cropped – otherwise it won’t fit into the print size. I know this can be confusing, so I’m going to break it down for you!

Since I use a film camera, my photos are taken in a 4:3 ratio. My digital camera is also medium format, so it’s the same ratio. Many other digital cameras take photos in a 3:2 ratio. There is no way to change this ratio – it’s simply how the cameras work.

Many common print sizes do not match these ratios. This is why your photo gets “cropped” and the edges get cut off. 


See how one photo will be cropped at different print sizes:

cropping guide - common print sizes photography tip

So what can you do?

When ordering, you simply need to choose the best crop for that photo. You want to retain the original composition as much as possible. For example, you don’t want to cut off anyone’s feet or crop out an important part of the photo.

You also want to make sure that when you put it in a frame, the bottom doesn’t get cut off too much. Some frames will say it’s for an 8×10 photo, but the frame itself actually blocks some of the window opening. So you’ll want to look at the frame you have and adjust your crop accordingly. If you’re unsure, it’s better to keep a little bit on all edges when possible to ensure the final framed print will look beautiful.

If you want a framed print to be perfect, I highly recommend investing in professional framing. The photo is perfectly placed and sealed in the frame so it won’t be crooked, move around, or fade over time.

Another note – some online ordering systems automatically crop for you. The problem is, it may not be the crop you want! If the system doesn’t prompt you to adjust the crop, see if there’s an option to do so before checking out. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise when you receive your print. (If you order directly through me, you don’t have to worry about this!! I double check the crop for you before I send it out.)


What if the crop isn’t working for the size you want?

In some cases, the photo you’re trying to print simply can’t be cropped to attain the look you want. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re making a square print gallery on your wall, and you’ve selected this photo for one of the square frames:

However, you go to crop the photo and order your print and realize – the crop doesn’t work!! If you crop too high, you cut off feet. If you crop too low, you cut off the Washington Monument – a key feature you definitely want in the print. There’s no possible way to fit both their full bodies and the Washington Monument in this crop.

So what do you do? In a case like this, it’s best to either choose a different photo that fits this print ratio better, or choose a different frame for this specific print. Here’s another photo from the gallery that is horizontal and would be a perfect fit for a square print! The crop is only cutting off the trees on the right and the water on the left, retaining the original composition and getting the Washington Monument in the print as intended.


cropping guide - square tips for printing


But what if you absolutely love that first photo?

While it’s not the best fit for this square ratio, it is great in the following common print sizes: 8×10, 5×7, 4×6, 16×20 – you get the idea. See below how the first photo prints beautifully in a different ratio. You’ll simply need to select a different print size to achieve the look you want.

cropping guide tips from a photographer


In addition, there are a few things you can do before the session! Here’s what I recommend.

1. Choose an experienced photographer.

Experienced photographers keep in mind different ratios while taking photos to ensure you’ll have options. Every pose can’t be taken for every single ratio (trust me, you would be so tired of taking photos if we took that many). But it will be easier to print later on if your photographer is keeping an eye out for this detail!


2. Communicate with your photographer before the session.

If you need a specific print size or if you’re planning on using the photos in a wall gallery, share that info. Once a unique photo is taken, it might not work for a specific ratio. However, if I know you’re planning on putting up a large framed horizontal photo above your fireplace, I can take more photos that will fit that ratio. If I know you want to do a square gallery on the wall, I can keep an eye on the edges in my frame to give you more choices when it comes to printing.

In my portrait planning questionnaire, I ask all clients what specific prints or products they’re interested in. That way I have an idea of how I’ll approach the session.


3. Let your photographer take care of printing and framing for you.

This is the easiest way to ensure you’ll a) actually print your photos and b) the crop, size, and design will be correct. Even ordering loose prints directly from your photography gallery is a great alternative. I know my gallery store shows you the crop before purchasing. The colors will print accurately as my computer is calibrated to my printer. This simply means the way I edited your skin tones, the greenery, everything, will print exactly as intended. Finally, I double check the crop to be extra safe before it goes off to print – I’ve got you covered!


Cropping Guide Printing Photos

I offer two printing options for my clients.

You can easily order individual, loose prints from your online gallery OR I can design a custom frame or gallery wall for you.

The first option is simple and sweet – you simply add to cart, crop the photo, and pay online. Then I double check the crop to ensure it fits the photo correctly before it goes to print. This is ideal if you have frames you already want to use and plan on DIYing.

The second option is my favorite because it’s the full experience. I’ll guide you in selecting the best grouping of prints. (Because you know how hard it is to decide which photos will look best together). I’ve been designing albums and gallery walls for the past six years, and my design eye will take care of that element for you.

I’ll also help you choose the best frame style for your home. My software will show you what the prints will look like together framed, at the correct sizes. And I can even take it one step further – if you send me a photo of a wall you want to use, I can show you what the framed prints will look like in your own home.

This is the best way to ensure you love the look of the gallery before purchasing.


Printing and framing photos is expensive. The process is the most efficient when you can be 100% confident that everything will print exactly how you want. Otherwise, you might not know if they’re the perfect fit for that space until they arrive. Let me take the guesswork (and stress) out of it, and get those photos on your walls!!

If you don’t live near my photography studio in Northern Virginia, I do occasionally travel for portrait sessions. I also recommend looking for a photographer near you who is not only an experienced photographer, but a photographer experienced in printing photos specifically. Trust me – once you find someone who can take away the stress of it all, you’ll be so glad. You’ll finally get to enjoy your photos  every day instead of thinking about that one day in the future when you’ll finally check off “printing photos” on your to-do list.

If you have more questions, feel free to send me a note here! I would be more than happy to point you to some resources, or help you get your photos printed. Happy printing, friend!


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