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There is a little bit of most photographers that thinks photographs have to be a certain shape or format.

Since photography, as a consumer pastime, has been around we’ve been given a format for making photographs. The negative – in whichever form it has taken over the years – has dictated the format of the image. But need it always be that way? And should we now still feel the need to stick to a given format?

A Little bit of History…

There has been a precedent set by some photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, of insisting on cropping in the camera and printing with a full frame visible (thus proving no cropping had taken place). In recent times, and in the most post-modern cut and paste manner, this has led to the addition of trendy borders on digital photos: pretend negative strip edges to give false credentials to a digital image.



Cartier- Bresson (alongside Robert Capa, George Rodger and David Seymour), set up Magnum Photography in 1947. This was a photo agency which aimed to give control back to the photographers and prevent editors and printers cropping images and altering the ‘intention’ behind the image.

Whilst this might still be an important stance to take, there is nothing wrong with cropping images. For the number of photographers that refuse to do it an equally large number can be found for whom it is a core part of their creative process.

Who Decides the Ratios?

So, if one feels some pressure to conform to the ratios we are given, we should maybe know why they are there. Here’s a quick run down on the main contenders!

Square or 1:1 format images hark back to the days of medium format photography, shooting primarily with 120 film. The exposed area of this film measured 6cm x 6cm, hence the 1:1 format.

The Three to Two (3:2) ratio is also the result of film. The enormously popular and long lasting 35mm film exposed an image area measuring 24mm x 36mm. This is the ‘Classic’ format many digital cameras now refer to.

Four to Three (4:3) ratio images have their antecedents in the then popular dimensions of early digital displays. Many point and shoot cameras retain this format instead of 3:2.

The 16:9 ratio also has its roots in film technology. The short lived but influential Advanced Photo System (APS), was capable of capturing images in multiple formats, which included ‘Classic’ 3:2, panoramic and 16:9. For those who shoot moving images, 16:9 is also the standard format for HDTV.

How to Crop in Camera


Cropping your images in the Lumia 1020 really couldn’t be simpler. Once you’ve opened the image you want to crop, touch the three little dots icon and select edit. You can then select ‘Crop, rotate, auto-fix’ followed by the crop icon on the menu.

You can move the crop box around the image to select the area you want and drag the blue corners in and out to alter the shape of the box. If you want a pre-selected format, press the right hand icon and select the format you require. What could be simpler?

Why Crop?


The astonishing image quality of the Lumia 1020 means that cropping an image doesn’t mean you lose a lot of detail or information and his technical wizardry opens up enormous creative potential.

I felt there was a decent image to be had out of my beloved old denim jacket before it went off to the Flea Market. But the initial shots just didn’t have any punch. By using the cropping facility on the 1020, I got the image down to a stronger composition which focused on the well worn cuffs and buttons. I used the custom crop, which also meant that the image isn’t even square but keeps the key lines of the composition just where I wanted them. Finally, I then converted it into black and white.

The same can be true of certain landscape shots. By cropping this image in an extended oblong, I could emphasize particular elements of the shot and edit out any ‘empty’ areas.


As always, the rules are there to be broken! So your pictures should be whatever shape or format you decide they should be! Stick to the given formats when necessary, but break free when you need!