Aspect Ratio Solutions

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while, or have attended one of my Scottish workshops, will know that I have a few theories about aspect ratios. Specifically, that I believe that some aspect ratios are easier to compose in than others, and that for most beginners or amateurs, the aspect ratio of 3:2 is not an easy aspect ratio to master the art of composition with. For beginners, 3:2 is like giving yourself a handicap before you’ve even started.

I wrote an e-book about my theories as to how certain aspect ratios can aid or hinder your development. I finish my e-Book with an open letter to camera manufacturers to provide selectable aspect ratios in all of their cameras, not just the pro-level models.

If you've never thought about aspect ratios before, and don't know if your camera offers different ones, then it's something worth investigating. Many models do offer such options, but they are often hidden, or at best, poorly described. For instance, Nikon calls it 'picture style' I think. Canon hides their aspect ratio options under their custom function menu. And some models offer more than others. The Canon 7D for instance, has a collection of aspect ratios available, whereas the 5DMk 1, Mk2 have none, while the Mk3 I believe, only has 4:5 and 2:3.

My e-book has not been able to offer a solution for those of you who own cameras where the aspect ratio cannot be modified in some way. The good news is that I have seen a (slow) change in camera production over the past 4 years and note that more and more models are offering different aspect ratios for the live-view preview screen (which as you will know if you have attended one of my workshops - is a tremendous aid to composition). But the truth is that still many cameras do not offer a choice of aspect ratios.

Choice of aspect ratio may seem gimmicky to some, and pointless to others. I’d go the other way and say that by using a camera with an ill-fitting aspect ratio (i.e, one that does not suit your eye), is a seriously debilitating place to be with your photography.

I’m always amazed that most do not even consider the aspect ratio of a camera upon purchase. It doesn’t even come into the equation, and yet for me, it can be a deal breaker. I’ve found that ever since I moved from 35mm film up to medium format, my compositions seemed to be much easier to arrive at.

3:2 is difficult to compose with because it is heading towards panoramic - it is a letterbox format. Too wide, and not too tall when used in landscape mode, too tall and too narrow when used in portrait mode. Going 4:5 or 6:7 yields a much easier aspect to work in, because all the objects within the frame are never too far away from each other (and therefore their relationships to one another are easier to see and associate). If you don’t know my thoughts on this already, then I would recommend getting my aspect ratios e-Book.

So, I’ve been meaning to write for a while about two solutions I’ve been informed about regarding altering your camera to a different aspect ratio. One of them is a software solution while the other is a hardware solution. I have tried neither and offer them to you for your own investigation. Please do let me know how you get on if you try some of these:

Software Option (Canon users only)

Magic Lantern provide a software upgrade to your camera to offer additional features. One of these is to offer crop marks on the live view of the camera. It requires that you upgrade the firmware of your camera. It sounds risky, but there is plenty of information as to how to recover in their FAQ. The instructions on the website are pretty simple for setting up. First you have to make sure you have the most up to date Canon firmware installed, then you simply update the firmware again using the magic lantern files on the root of a CF card.

You can find more about the crop mark functionality from Magic Lantern here:

Hardware Option

Probably the best way to go, is to have the ground glass of your camera laser etched, or buy a replacement that has been pre-etched for you:


Again, I have not tried any of these, and merely offer them to you for further investigation :-) Good luck, and let me know how you get on :-)