A big challenge for some photographers is making sure the aspect ratio of an image is correct. Each type of image: landscape photographs, portrait photographs, and even still-life photographs have an ideal aspect ratio to ensure an optimal product. Learning what an aspect ratio is, and a good ratio for your type of photo is a large part of photography. 

So, what is the aspect ratio of a portrait photo? An optimal ratio for a portrait photo is going to be either 3:2 or 2:3 depending on if you want the photo in landscape or vertical format.

The key to taking good photographs is to remember what the final format of the photo will be. Is it going to be printed, or is it going to be on a social media site? The best way to get an optimal ratio is to consider the subject being photographed and the format the photograph will be in.

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio in simplest terms is the relationship between the width and height of a photograph. The aspect ratio is always written as two numbers with a colon in between them. The width is written first, and then the height (W:H).

An aspect ratio is essentially the shape of the photograph. For example: if the aspect ratio is 1:1 the photograph will be a square because the width of the photo and the height of the photo are the same.

Most professional DSLR cameras are programmed to take images in the 3:2 aspect ratio as this is the best ratio for most photos. And most Smartphone cameras are programmed to take pictures in the 4:3 ratio.

In the case of the 3:2 and 4:3 aspect ratio, the images produced will be rectangles because the width is slightly larger than the height of the image. 

The most common aspect ratios are 3:2 and 4:3 as these are the ratios pre-programmed into most cameras.

These ratios can also easily be flipped to be 2:3 and 3:4 by simply turning the cameras into a vertical orientation. These ratios can be achieved by physically turning the cameras on their side.

For example: when you are taking a photograph with your DSLR camera and it is being held with the screen in a horizontal position (the screen width is larger than the height) a photo taken from that angle is going to be 3:2. Similarly, if you take a photo with your camera where your camera screen in vertical (the screen height is longer than the width), then the ratio will be 2:3.

Choosing the Right Aspect Ratio

For most people, the ‘right’ aspect ratio is going to be determined by the object that you are photographing, and the final format you want the image to be in.

For example, if you are trying to upload a photo to Instagram the best aspect ratio is going to be 1:1. The reason for this is because the formatting of Instagram only allows photos to be in the 1:1 ratio. If your photo is in 3:2 you will have to crop out sections of the photograph in order to upload it to Instagram.

Similarly, if you are trying to take a thumbnail photo for a YouTube video your aspect ratio will have to be in 16:9. This is due to the fact that once it is uploaded onto a computer, the image will appear the most clear and non-blurry if it is in this ratio.

3:2 Ratio

Used predominantly on DSLR cameras. This ratio is formatted to create the most visually appealing photos that are good for pretty much any type of photograph. This ratio is best for printing photos or showing photos on your phone that look High Definition and flawless.

2:3 Ratio

This ratio is ideal for portrait photography. It is typically found on DSLR cameras when they are oriented vertically. This aspect ratio is best for portrait photography because it allows the photograph to contain the entirety of your subject's body.

4:3 Ratio

This ratio is also ideal for pretty much any photograph. It is typically found on smartphones when they are oriented into landscape mode. These are ideal for printing photographs or showing them to others on your phone.

3:4 Ratio

This ratio is also ideal for portrait photography. It is found on smartphones as well and allows the entirety of the subject to be viewed without zooming out too far. This ratio is typical when you are taking photos on your phone while it remains vertical.

1:1 Ratio

Anyone who is obsessed with Instagram will know that this is the magic ratio. There is even a setting on most phones that is titled ‘square’ that allows you to take photos in the 1:1 ratio so that you don’t have to re-format it for Instagram.

16:9 Ratio

Landscape and panoramic views are usually taken in this aspect ratio. If you are looking to create a very wide shot so that you can capture multiple subjects at once, this may be the ratio you want to use. Typically, photographers who use this ratio are known for capturing mountain scenery or sunsets.

YouTubers are also well-known for using this ratio because this is the ratio that YouTube videos are typically required to be in. If you have run across a very blurry YouTube video, it is likely that the video was not taken in this aspect ratio and was then stretched out to fit it. Clean, high definition videos are usually shot with this ratio.

Printed Photos Aspect Ratio

If you are still having a difficult time choosing the correct aspect ratio, think of what you want the final format to look like. If you are printing the photos that you take, it may be wise to think about what type of prints you want before you capture the image.

There are a few common print sizes that easily lend themselves to popular aspect ratios as seen in the table below:

Print SizeAspect Ratio
4 x 6
6 x 4
3:2 or 4:3
2:3 or 3:4
5 x 77:5
8 x 105:4
20 x 303:2

A 4×6 print size is what a typical photo print looks like. It can be in either the horizontal version of a picture or a vertical version of a picture. The difference is just the way in which the photo is oriented. If you are looking to create a 4×6 horizontal image (technically a 6×4) then it is best suited for images taken in the 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratio. If you are looking for a 4×6 vertical image, then it will be best suited for a 2:3 or 3:4 aspect ratio. 

A 5×7 print size is another typical photo print for images, it is slightly larger and lends itself best to the 7:5 aspect ratio.

Similarly, an 8×10 print size (printer paper size), is best suited to a 5:4 aspect ratio.

Finally, some photographers opt to use a 20×30 print size (mostly for larger portrait photos such as wedding images or family photos). This print size is perfect for 3:2 aspect ratio, as it allows the image to retain its quality while also being blown up to a larger scale.

Conclusion

If you are taking a portrait photograph on a phone the best aspect ratio is going to be 3:4; but if you are taking a portrait photo on a DSLR camera the best aspect ratio is going to be 2:3.

Since most people are taller than they are wide, these ratios allow the photograph to capture every detail of the person you are taking a photo of. You can easily fit a person head-to-toe into one of these ratios without capturing too much of the background details.

Just remember, that the best ratio for your photograph needs to be taken into consideration before you even take the photo. Consider the final format the photo will be in, as well as the subject of the photo, in order to determine the best aspect ratio.