On some photos, I have some parts that I want to remove, as it was not possible to be removed while shooting. For example, consider this composition:

wall - tree - center wall (photo subject) - tree - background

I was not able to cut off the background, as I wanted to capture the center wall. Now, the background breaks the composition and moves the eye-focus from the center wall and I want to cut it off, but there is simply no standard ratio I can use to satisfy my goals.

How weird would it be to use some non-standard ratio for the photo? I know about the golden ratio etc, but how important is to stick to common ratios and dimensions?


5 Answers 5


Aspect ratio is only critical when matching to one printed paper size, or maybe to full screen monitor shape. Only one ratio fits another shape. And since many shapes exist, no one ratio number is very important, except for your current match, when it is all important.

Otherwise, if not matching to any specific shape, then it's entirely your choice, how you want it to be.

  • Great succinct answer!
    – Itai
    Dec 5, 2015 at 21:45
  • Or matching a standardized frame/matte size.
    – Michael C
    Dec 6, 2015 at 3:32

The only thing I avoid is an almost-square. Either square or 8x10, in-between feels like a mistake.

If it's going in some sort of tight presentation—gallery show, book, etc. it'll look less weird if you have a few other photos the same ratio. So you don't have one weird standout.


If your concern is with adhering to whole number ratios (3:2, 4:3, 8:10, etc.) you could try to find a whole-number ratio that's close to whatever arbitrary one you might be considering for the image, say 7:3 for a panorama that needs to be just a little wider than 2:1... but what, if any, real value this has is something you'll ultimately have to evaluate for yourself.

One possibly less subjective way of answering the "how important?" part of your question might be to assemble a fairly large collection of images that you like, then collect some statistics on them to see how closely they conform to standard ratios.

  • 1
    What about the standard 16:9 aspect ratio?
    – J Sargent
    Dec 5, 2015 at 21:53
  • 1
    @NᴏᴠɪᴄᴇIɴDɪsɢᴜɪsᴇ - 16:9 is a technical, not aesthetic, standard, and probably never saw any use until recently. It is, however, an example of making a slightly "off" ratio still conform to whole numbers, although 1/16 is definitely getting into the range where that probably doesn't mean much in terms of human perception. Dec 5, 2015 at 22:02
  • 2
    [Citation needed] for the claim that small whole-number ratios are considered more pleasing. Dec 6, 2015 at 0:24
  • 1
    @junkyardsparkle First, I don't see how music is relevant: hearing is a completely different mechanism to seeing. Second, the claim about music is incorrect, since successive notes on a piano are in proportions based on the twelfth root of two, not any rational number. This kind of claim about simple whole-number ratios being somehow more pleasing is the kind of popular nonsense that gets bandied about with absolutely zero evidence and, as far as I can see, it's just false. For example, standard paper sizes such as A4 (1:sqrt(2)) and US letter (17:22) are not in simple whole-number ratios. Dec 6, 2015 at 9:38
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby If you'll take an appeal to authority, Vitruvius. This is the system shown in Da Vinci's famous Vitruvian Man sketch and actually discussed as aesthetically appealing in Pacioli's De divina proportione. While there's little-to-no evidence supporting the use of the golden ratio in art, architecture, or aesthetics before then 19th century, there's plenty backing up the idea that the ancients believed in pleasing harmony of small integer ratios. Now, whether that's correct or not is another story.
    – mattdm
    Dec 8, 2015 at 21:40

I'm not a big fan of rules for this kind of thing. I take the view that as long as the final image works for you ( and the viewer ) it does not matter what rules you used or did not use to get it.

That said, experience does show that more often than not the various rules work. But if you have a lousy scene, not much will save it.

Also I think people sometimes get hung up on composition and forget that moving to get a better shot is also a type of composition. It's surprising what a foot one way or another can do sometimes. Or what raising or lowering the camera can achieve. I say this because you describe a scene where you cannot get what you want. Sometimes moving helps that.

  • yeah, this time moving didnt help. coming too close would cut of the parts of middle wall, which I want to avoid. But that is a gread tip!
    – igor
    Dec 6, 2015 at 23:09

I tend to shoot/crop always in or very close to a standard dimenion for two reasons. First, the costs to mat and frame will be less. (although one could always have a image that shows a lot of bare paper between the image and the mat; I don't like that.) Secondly, I want people to look through the matted picture into a different reality, to become unaware of the picture as a physical thing. I think that people are accustomed to the standard sizes and the further from that ratio, the more conscious of the frame the viewer will be and the less able to enter that reality of the image.

If you don't think shape is important, look at the impact of the shape of a panorama. Note also that you are aware of the shape of tall skinny picture cropped to match the subject. enter image description here

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.