“Preserve Aspect Ratio”

also known as “Constrain Proportions.”

If you keep the "constrain proportions" box checked in Adobe Photoshop, it will automatically retain the correct aspect ratio.
If you keep the “constrain proportions” box checked in Adobe Photoshop, it will automatically retain the correct aspect ratio.

I was amazed and disappointed recently when I had to reject a number of poster-sized prints my office and I had printed at a profession printer, because despite my exact words “preserve the aspect ratio” of the photos, eight of the 22-image batch had been squished to fit the poster. My disappointment came from the fact that a professional print ship should know better.

But I am aware that many of my readers might not know what this means. In short, almost all of the images of news and sports that I shoot are cropped to a custom aspect ratio for compositional purposes. Aspect ratio is the relationship between the width and the height of an image. Some of my images are square, some are long, thin rectangles, and so on. What the printer did wrong was to either let their machine resize the images, or did it manually, to fit inside a 20×24-inch box so it would fit to the size of the posters I ordered. I was clear in my order that if an image was a square, it should stay square, and if it was long and thin, it should stay that way, and they could trim the print to match the aspect ratio of the image.

My guess is that one employee took my order and another filled it. I’m not terribly upset about it because they understood their mistake and fixed it at once, but it did mean lost time and productivity for me even though I was perfectly clear when placing my order.

The image on the left is the way it should have been printed, followed by trimming off the grey areas. The image on the right is what they actually did.
The image on the left is the way it should have been printed, followed by trimming off the grey areas. The image on the right is what they actually did.
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2 Comments

  1. Nice job of explaining the importance and meaning of this concept. And thanks for the reminder of the “constrain proportions” box. I hate it when a print comes back in the incorrect aspect ratio.

    Kind of off the topic of still photography, I remember when home videos would not preserve the aspect ratio of movies converted to VHS. Back in the 90s, every movie you rented was pan-and-scan, and for years I could never understand why a movie looked so great on the big screen and like absolute mud on television. Movies with gorgeous cinematography like Dances With Wolves, Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction were cropped to a square, omitting important details in the corners of the frames. Then when DVDs came along, my mind was blown — those black bars and the top and bottom of the picture preserved aspect ratio. A lot of people hated those black bars back when DVDs were first coming out, but I knew I’d never watch another pan-and-scan movie again.

    Anyway, good post.

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  2. Whoever sets up hotel TVs need to read this entry. In dozens of hotels over the past few years, only *one* has had its TV aspect ratio set up correctly.

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