Shooting 35mm for five years, naturally my favoured aspect ratio was the 36mm x 24mm of a frame of film, ie 3:2.
When I starting shooting more digital photographs than film, I followed this ratio through, with cameras like my Pentax K10D and Ricoh GRD III, because I was so used to composing in these dimensions.
The more I got into digital compact cameras though (and phone cameras), the more I started to drift back to 4:3, the aspect ratio I’d used extensively with phone cameras and my first Nikon Coolpix before I even discovered film.
Nowadays, aside from an occasional dip into square format, I’m pretty much exclusively using 4:3 again.
Here are the three major reasons why.
1. It’s the default for most cameras I use.
Although a number of cameras I have can be set to 3:2, 1:1 and 16:9 ratios, all of those also have 4:3. The digital cameras I have that only have a single aspect ratio, are 4:3.
So it makes sense to be consistent across them all, for this ratio to become second nature, and make for as seamless a transition as possible when switching between the handful cameras that remain in my arsenal.
2. It means no cropping is required for 8×6 prints.
I understand why 6×4 inch prints exist, they’re the same aspect ratio as film. But most people these days who want these size of prints are those who want family shots to hand around and put in frames and albums. Photos that have almost invariably been shot on digital cameras and phones with a 4:3 ratio. So every print gets cropped at the top and the bottom.
Even more bizarre are 5×7 prints. I’ve never had a camera which has film or a sensor with a 5×7 ratio. Do they exist? So with 5×7, you lose part of your photo whether you shot it 3:2 or 4:3!
(I’ve been in a photo lab on more than one occasion where the poor assistant has tried patiently to explain why photos made in one aspect ratio won’t fit in a frame of another aspect ratio, without being cropped, stretched or distorted. Still many people don’t seem to get it!)
Anyway, so choosing 4:3 as an aspect ratio means I can easily make 8×6 inch prints. This size is small enough to have a few on a wall and be affordable to print, and large enough to see more detail and make more impact than 6×4 (half the size!).
They look great in widely available and affordable black 12×10 inch frames with a two inch mount around them.
3. It was the aspect ratio of every screen I grew up with.
I think somewhere deep inside my psyche 4:3 just looks right to me on a screen (ie my camera screen) because I grew up in the pre-widescreen days where all TVs and computer screens were 4:3.
I sometimes pine for the days of the old wooden framed ITT TV we had when I first watched kids TV like Jamie and The Magic Torch, and latterly the magnificent final Sony Bravias, which I still think were higher picture and sound quality than virtually all flatscreen TVs today.
Anyway, the dimensions of 4:3 make sense because for probably the first 25 years of my life, that was simply the size and shape all screens were.
From these reasons, it’s not hard to see why, despite my fondness for 3:2 from my film days, 4:3 has become the practical and most obvious choice for my photography.
How about you? Which is your favoured aspect ratio for photography, and why? How does it translate when you make prints?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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