All Rectangles Are Not The Same (or even Similar)

Our friend, Ibis Hillencamp (whom you may remember for the advice she gave on our FAQ page about becoming a better photographerlink) thought people might need an explanation of a photograph’s aspect ratio and why you need to consider it when enlarging or cropping your images. After explaining that, I give some ideas for filling in additional space around your image that may result from changing the aspect ratio.

When you enlarge a picture, unless you want distortion, you have to increase the width the exact same ratio as the height. For example, a 4″ by 6″ image might be enlarged into an 8″ by 12″ image, or a 10″ by 15″, and so forth. For each of these examples, the aspect ratio, which is the height divided by the width (or vice versa, as long as you are consistent), remains the same (\frac{4}{6} = \frac{8}{12} = \frac{10}{15} = 0.66667  ). Mathematicians would call the three rectangles in this example, and all others with the same aspect ratio, “similar”. When placed at the right distances, you would not be able to tell them apart. SLR cameras, starting with the analog 35mm and continuing to the digital versions, have an aspect ratio of 2:3 and can make prints the size of any of the above examples with no problem. Other cameras have different aspect ratios. If you haven’t already done so, learn your camera’s aspect ratio.

And Now The Bad News

The problem starts when you try to put your picture in a standard-sized frame. They routinely have a different aspect ratio. If you want an 8″ by 10″ print, for example, you will be changing the aspect ratio to 0.8. An 11″ by 14″ print has an aspect ratio of 0.786. The simple answer would be to crop your original image, which means you are going to lose part of the picture. That could be a problem. The other option is to fill in any missing parts. That is almost always a problem. Let me show you.

Cropping options with a different aspect ratio
Nancy in an image with a 3:4 aspect ratio and a couple possible ‘crops’ with a 2:3 aspect ratio.

For those of you who do not recognize her, the above picture is of my wife, Nancy, the nature and wildlife photographer (No, this is not a selfie). This image has an aspect ratio of 4:3. Suppose we want to put her picture in a mat with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The easiest thing would be to crop to the red rectangle, which is the largest such rectangle we can get from the given material. But as you can see, there is no breathing space around the hat. So we could enlarge to the orange rectangle to use the original picture’s entire width, but we will need to get creative and fill in some along the top and bottom edges (by the way, can you guess why the top and bottom voids created by the orange rectangle are not the same size?). While the techniques to fill those voids are beyond the scope of this article, I would like to share a few thoughts. These thoughts apply not only to the case where you need to add material to change aspect ratio but for other causes also, like when you inadvertently cut off some body part when taking the shot.

Suggestions For Filling Missing Space

  • The first moral to this dilemma is don’t get too tight on your subject while shooting. Start leaving yourself a little more edge room when you take your pictures. Besides not inadvertently cutting off parts of the subject, which are harder to bring back after-the-fact, you might actually capture the subject’s whole reflection, which you didn’t even notice in the excitement of getting this unique subject.
  • The first step in processing this change in aspect ratio is to go back and check the original file. Maybe you had previously cropped the image for compositional purposes and the original might still have at least part of the now-missing material that you need.
  • Small, uncomplicated additions are easy enough with Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool (and although I’m not a huge fan, sometimes Content-Aware Fill might even work), but it gets trickier as the size of the addition increases. It would be no problem to fill the new space above Nancy’s head with sky, and maybe even throw in an extra cloud or two, but if for some reason, we had wanted to extend the left edge of this image an inch or so, finding enough water to fill the gap without people noticing repetitions could be an issue.
  • Sometimes you can create more usable material from within the image itself by copying some of the waves, for example, and flipping them, or rotating them, etc. But you will have to judge the effectiveness of these actions on a case-by-case basis.
  • Look at the photograph you took just before this one and just after this one for more material. Especially if you are shooting wildlife, I know you had your camera on rapid-shoot. The neighboring shot that you didn’t select for this image may have ‘new’ material that would be useful for your current extension project.
  • Continue to expand your search area. Even if you didn’t get another picture of your subject squirrel that day, you might have other squirrel pictures you can use to replace that missing piece.

Send Your Ideas

Well, that’s all I have for now. Although I have no intentions yet of following this article with more detailed information on the Clone Stamp or other tools, I am pretty sure there are plenty of tutorials out there, both by Adobe and by several third parties. If you do have your own hard-earned techniques or suggestions on any of the material I’ve just discussed or even a horror story that’s relevant, I’m sure my readers would love to see your comments below. Thanks.

Tell It To The Judge: In Defense Of Photographers & Canvas

To be transparent, I must say I’ve developed some theories about the biases of art critics and the judges of art festivals, based mostly on their selections of art to be awarded prizes at these festivals (and maybe my own biases).  I’ve noticed certain patterns that I was hesitant to discuss here until I had taken the time to formally learn something about art.  That hasn’t happened yet, but we did have an opportunity to discuss photography (more specifically, nature and wildlife photography) with the judges at one recent art festival and I feel compelled to address one aspect of that discussion.  My comments on the other aspects may wait until I satisfy my original goals/requirements.  Today’s comments involve canvas.

The Judges’ Remarks

One of the judges said, “I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”. There were three judges at the table when Nancy approached them. Their views were all consistent. Other remarks included “When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter” and ‘When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.’ One judge pointed out that painters don’t paint the side of their canvas.

Our History

Those familiar with our website know there are already two places where I’ve referred to painters as pre-photographers:

You also know I’ve even chided fellow photographers for not keeping up with the times Stop Thinking Like A Film Photographer!.

A Dose of Reality

Painters like Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519) and Georges Seurat (1859-1891) (see the first note in “A Question About Pixels”) are just two examples of artists who led society into the future, not followed. I’m sure if Leonardo had a camera, he would have used it in a flash (forgive the pun, I couldn’t help myself). These two and their peers would be saddened (or worse) to think that painters now feel unable to keep up with society and judges feel a need to artificially reserve materials and techniques specifically for painters in an effort to level the playing field.

My Responses

Now I’d like to address some of their remarks individually.

“When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter”

A few months before this conversation, a painter at another prominent festival in Florida won Best Of Show and $10,000 for impersonating a photographer. I know another artist who uses pencil to imitate black & white photographs. This is called realism, which apparently artists have tried (with varying degrees of success) throughout history, most notably in the Realist Movement of the mid-nineteenth century.

So here’s a question: if canvas-using photographers are impersonating painters, who was Leonardo impersonating when he painted the two versions of Virgin of the Rocks in oils on wooden panels? A sculptor, maybe? Maybe a carpenter like the protagonist in his famous mural
“The Last Supper”? Or maybe that particular impersonation has been reserved for the judges.

“When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.”

Well maybe that’s why painters do it. After all, contrary to the one judge’s declaration, some painters do paint the sides. But have you ever see a painter warp the image around the edge so that at some angle it creates an illusion and looks like a continuation of the front image (as described in the Canvas section of our Services page)? While we are at it, have you ever seen a painter camouflage their signature to make it less distracting (which solves a problem some critics have complained to photographers about)? Here’s how we do it ( Our New Technique For Signatures & Titles). Come on, painters, try to keep up!

“I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”

I recently heard from another wildlife photographer about a time when a judge took a liking to one of her images, but then left without comment. When the judge came back the second time, he asked if she had another copy of that image that wasn’t printed on canvas. Fortunately, she did, because that second copy won her the second-highest award in the festival.

In our booth and online, I’ve discussed the magical properties of canvas. When people see one of Nancy’s images on canvas they are more likely to ask “Is this a painting?’ or are more likely to comment that it looks three-dimensional. For some strange reason, it is also perfectly acceptable to print a particular photograph larger on canvas.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
People have offered a couple of explanations for this. The first argues that the texture of the canvas disguises any lack of resolution. The second, getting psychological, suggests that canvas invokes some painting mentality, making the viewer less critical (nobody ever asked an eighteenth-century master how many pixels were in his/her brush). Both explanations sound plausible to me, but being a pragmatist, I just run with what works.

So it is especially disturbing, and sad, that a judge would make a statement like this. Photographers follow the same rules of composition and the same principles of art, but for a judge to admit that these are not important, to me is an admission that the judges don’t really know what makes a piece of art special and are just grasping at fads or straws.

At least that’s how I see it (I guess now is a good time to remind you that the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of management). So what’s your view. If any of you can make better sense of these judges’ remarks, your comments are also welcome.

I’ve Fixed Our Menus

Shortly after getting my first smartphone, I noticed a problem with our menusblog. I believe I have now fixed the problem, meaning that people with smartphones should be able to use the menus of at least 95% of the pages on the Bee Happy Graphics website. The aesthetics of the page may have suffered slightly, but that might be only temporary. I will continue to work on the last 5%, and I still need to implement the changes prompted by your inputcontest. I might even be changing our hosting service to something easier and less expensive. But for now, enjoy the new functionality! If you find a page where the menus don’t work, or see another problem, let me know. Thanks!

Thoughts On Mat Layout

The easiest and most common mat layout is one with the widths of all four borders equal. If you are forcing a picture into a standard-sized frame, however, that’s not always possible. And then there’s the matter of bottom-weighted mats.

Bottom-Weighted Mats

Bottom-weighted mats, or mats with the bottom edge wider than the others, were introduced long, long ago. Some say that pictures centuries ago were hung very high on the wall and the bottom width of the mat was increased to compensate for the ‘distortion’ of that perspective. Unfortunately, that story makes no sense; top-weighting would be required to correct for the top being further from the viewer than the bottom. Another explanation involves the notion of a difference between the visual or optical center and the geometric center. Yet others claim it is to compensate for the drop of the mat in the frame due to tolerances necessary to account for expansion, etc. For whatever reason, bottom weighting could be seen as an attempt to fool your audience or overcome optical perceptions, whichever you prefer. As commonly practiced in “finer frame shops everywhere”, the bottom width is generally increased ¼” to 1″, depending on the size of the pictureref.

Using Standard Mats

But how would one incorporate bottom weighting while fitting an image into a standard-sized mat? For example, if the vertical difference between the hole size and mat size is greater than the horizontal difference, and assuming the left and right borders will be the same width, is it better to:

 AMake the top and bottom borders equal,
 BMake the top the same size as the left and the right and put all of the extra width on the bottom,
 CMake the bottom larger than the top by some fixed amount,
DMake the differences even more subtle by making the difference between the top border and the side borders the same as the difference between the top and bottom borders?

Let’s clarify your choices with an example. Suppose you want a 4″-high hole that’s 7″ wide in a standard 8″-high by 10″ mat. The horizontal difference between the mat size and the hole size is 10″ – 7″ = 3″, so if you want the left and right borders to be the same, each will be 3″ ÷ 2 = 1½”. The vertical difference between mat and hole size is 8″ – 4″ = 4″.

Choice AWould make the top and bottom borders the same, making them each 4″ ÷ 2 = 2″.
Choice BWould make the top 1½” like the left and right borders, leaving 4″ – 1½” = 2½” for the bottom border.
Choice CUses the customary bottom weighting, which the one reference I give above lists as ¼” for an 8″x10″ mat (personally, a ¼” bottom weight isn’t worth the trouble). That means the top border would be (4″ – ¼”) ÷ 2 = 1⅞” and the bottom would be ¼” more, or 2⅛” (notice as you check your work that 1⅞” + 2⅛” = 4″). Finally,
Choice DIs a tad more complicated. Let’s call the difference between the left or right border width and the top border width “d”, such that
 1½” + d = T (for top border width).

Then the bottom border (B) would be

T + d or (substituting the last expression for T)
(1½” + d) + d = 1½” + 2⋅d.

Since T + B = 4″, then (substituting for T and B)

(1½” + d) + (1½” + 2⋅d) = 4″, meaning
3″ + 3⋅d = 4″ or 3⋅d = 1″, meaning d = ⅓”,

so (substituting back into our equations for T and B)

T = 1½” + ⅓” = 15/6” and
B =15/6” + ⅓” = 21/6

(again noting that 15/6” + 21/6” = 4″) .
Mat Weights
Our Four Mat Choices (drawn to scale)

The choice you make would be an artistic decision, but I think A is the most common answer. Choice C could be used for traditional bottom-weighting, as in our example, or could be used for some other more artistic value. Technically, both Choices B and D are possible results of that equation. B would be exactly what you get when you want bottom-weighting and are not restricted to standard mats; it would work best if the resulting difference between the top and bottom borders is not too much greater than the customary bottom-weighting distances mentioned above. In our example, it yields 2½” for the bottom border, which is an inch larger than the other three borders and may just be too much.  In our example, C and D are very close, and remain close when we change the amount of weight in C from ¼” to ½” (as shown by the lighter blue opening).  D is more subtle than C, but may only be worth the effort when the difference between the left and top borders is small enough to fool somebody.  In other cases with different numbers, results may vary. 

With Larger Side Borders

If the horizontal difference between the hole size and the mat size is greater than the vertical difference, you could face up to the same number of choices as above, but you are working with less material for the top and bottom borders and I think it is usually better to keep things simple and make those borders equal.

Differing Left And Right Borders?

Do the vertical borders always need be the same size? Although I can’t say I’ve ever seen or read about different-sized side borders, I’m not convinced that uniformity is strictly required. For example, in photography, as in older art forms, there a “rule” of spaceref that says, among other things, that there should be plenty of space on the side of the subject into which it is looking. If you have a “perfectly” centered and close-cropped picture of your mother looking to your left, could a mat with a wider border on the left side create the space that’s lacking in the image?  Maybe you could even choose a mat color that is a pastel version of the background to her right (your left)? Maybe a contrasting outer mat could be added with traditional (identical) vertical borders.

 I present the above thoughts to give some background and (more importantly) stimulate your own creativity. If you think of other possibilities, I’d be thrilled to have you add them to the comments. Thank you!

Working With Weird Wood: Preface

A few years ago, Nancy took a photograph of her junior-high-school best friend JoAnne’s father on a tractor at his northern-Florida homestead and gave it to JoAnne. After he died, JoAnne brought the picture back, along with some of the old fence pickets from the property, and asked if we could use them to frame the picture. After a lot of research, planning, and experimentation, this is what we came up with:

From Fence To Frame

The pickets were thin, dilapidated, warped, and dirty. The few articles I did find were about “barn wood” which, although it had a slightly distressed surface, was still thick and sound with straight, flat, parallel and perpendicular sides – none of which applied here. The articles were not all that helpful and not all that well written. I thought this project could be an opportunity to learn something new, and to share it with you. I hope I took enough notes and pictures to show you exactly how this frame was made. At least that’s the plan.

But First . . .

From math class, you may remember that one problem-solving strategy is to solve a simpler problem first and then use that answer to help solve the harder problem.  With that in mind, I have an idea to write a series of short articles on working with weird wood to make frames, so that I can draw on that information in the final article about this project.  The first article will be about working with pieces of moulding of different widths in the same frame.  Then I see a discussion of moulding where the inside and outside edges are not parallel.  Maybe then we’ll work with wood with a wavy inside edge.  Following that may be a discussion about what to do when your moulding is curved (but with uniform width).  But even before the first article, I may have to give a short post about matting techniques.  My hope is that by doing all of this it will expand your view of what’s possible and it will stimulate those creative juices of yours.  These articles will probably not be consecutive blog posts; another art festival season has just begun and other things will invariably come up as I am writing these pieces.  So please be patient and stay tuned.  Thank you!

We Have A Winner!

Three months ago, I invited you to critique my new homepage and offered a rewardblog. The offer has closed and the results are in. But first, a recap. We received twenty suggestions from six people. Each suggestion received three virtual tickets. We received no votes of preference between the new and the old homepage. Each of those would have received one ticket. While some of the questions in the original post were not addressed, and some of the suggestions apply to the other parts of our website beyond the scope of this contest (which will still be considered in my next round of changes), half of our commenters thought the slideshow needed to be larger and more prominent, with more features. While two commenters didn’t like the black background and bright fonts, one (with vision problems) did, so now I need to explore how to make the site more appealing to all viewers. The suggested larger font might help. Some viewers wanted an easier but more comprehensive menu system. These were the suggestions that received multiple votes. The other suggestions were no less valid, but this is only a summary, so feel free to check them out in the comment section of the original post referenced above. While I may not be able to make all the changes, I will be working on this project over the summer. Stay tuned.

Not surprisingly, the winner was the one who made the most suggestions. Robert Sullivan received ten dollars off any print, either one of Nancy’s or his own (you can see his work at This award is transferable and may be combined with any other awards and promotions. There is no time limit. Congratulations, Robert, and thanks for your help. I would also like to thank our other contributors.

For the fishermen or naturalists among you, the next contest is already underway. Check out our last blog post, Name This Fish. And I still have a math question which I may get to by the end of the summer. Don’t go away.

How We Digitally Stretch Our Gallery-Wrap Edges Before Printing

To download a printable version of this article (GalleryStretch.pdf), click here

Edge of Gallery-wrapped Canvas Print
Edge of Gallery-wrapped Canvas Print

As we discussed on the Services page of our website, we digitally “stretch” our image before wrapping it around the edge of our gallery-wrapped canvas images. Here’s how we do that:

  1. Crop Your Image Oversized

    Our gallery wraps are either 3/4” thick or 11/2“. On the thin ones, I usually take the 1/4” strip along the edges and stretch it to 1″, thus having an extra 1/4” to wrap around to the backside to cover for variations in the printing and stretching processes. On the larger ones, I take 1/2” and stretch it to 2″ (thus leaving 1/2” on the back). I wouldn’t stretch the image more than four times its original size, but you could go less. To do that, you would effectively be taking a wider margin to wrap around the side. Before cropping, make sure “Delete Cropped Pixels” has a check.

    As an example, if I want a 12” x 18” image stretched around a 11/2” frame, I would crop the image to 13” x 19”. (If it goes on a 3/4” thick frame, crop to 121/2” x 181/2“.)

  2. Save As …

    Assuming you are starting with your image master file, save with a new name reflecting the new dimensions.

  3. Place Guides

    Put guides 1/2” in from each edge (for a 11/2” gallery-wrap, or 1/4” in for the 3/4” wrap). Put another guide right on each of the four edges of your image.

  4. Enlarge Canvas

    Increase the canvas size 3” in both dimensions to get 16” x 22” with the image centered (or increase 11/2” for the skinnier frame, to bring the overall dimensions to 14″ x 20″).

    To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
    Click Image ⇨ Canvas Size…
    Put a check in the Relative Box
    Make Width and Height 3 Inches
    Make sure Anchor dot is in center of the grid
    Hit OK

  5. Stretch Edges

    I would then use a distort transform to digitally stretch the outermost 1/2” to 2” wide, filling the canvas.

    To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.

    Make sure Snap is checked in the View Menu

    Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the 1/2″ strip between the guides along one of the edges.

    Click Edit ⇨ Transform ⇨ Distort.

    Place the mouse cursor over the little square in the middle of the outer edge of the selected area and drag it to the edge of the canvas.

    Hit the checkmark to finish the transform.

    Repeat all the above with the 1/2″ strips along the other three edges

    Actually, I first do the four corner squares separately using the scale transform (Edit ⇨ Transform ⇨ Scale), but since only a small bit along the edge of those squares has any chance of being seen, you could include them in either the horizontal or vertical strips (or even both).

    Usually, when I stretch the edges like this, Photoshop leaves a thin white line along the inside edge of the stretched region. I fix that with the Spot Healing Brush tool on a separate layer.

  6. Create Extra Canvas

    Now I add a blank (transparent) edge around the image representing the canvas I need for stretching the canvas around the frame by increasing the canvas size by double the required margins in both dimensions, the same way we did above. That margin would be at least the width of the moulding along the bottom (1″ for the 11/2” moulding we are using now) and enough extra to get a grip with the canvas pliers (for me that’s at least 3/4“). That would make the image’s final dimensions at least 191/2” x 251/2“. The skinnier moulding is 11/2” along the bottom, so the final overall dimensions would be at least 181/2” x 241/2“.

  7. Finish

    When I am finished adding canvas, I add layers with cut lines, fold lines, staple lines, positioning marks for the hanging hardware, et cetera, but that is a personal matter beyond the scope of this article. Save your file before exiting.

That’s about it. Feel free to leave comments or questions.

A Solution To Second Mat(h) Problem

Sadly, we had no winners to this contest. Here is a solution to that math problem:

There is more than one way to solve this problem, but we will be exploiting three different relationships. First, in preserving the aspect ratio, the length of the image (we’ll call L) is 11/2 times the width (W). L = 1.5W . Then, adding up the components making up the overall width of the mat, the image width (less two overlaps of 1/8“) plus two mat widths (M) would equal 16 inches. W - \frac{1}{4}" + 2M = 16" By the same token, the image length (less same overlaps) plus two mat widths would be 20 inches. L - \frac{1}{4}" + 2M = 20"

If you replace the L in the last equation with its W equivalent from the first equation, and then add 1/4” to both sides of both equations to combine constants, you are left with the following two equations to solve with two unknown variables:

\begin{array}{r c l} 1.5W & + 2M = & 20.25 \\ W & + 2M = & 16.25 \end{array}

From here you can use linear algebra (matrices) or algebraic manipulation to simplify until you are left with just one variable. For example, just subtracting the bottom equation from the top (subtracting the left sides separately from the right sides of each equation), you will wind up with

0.5W = 4

which means the image width is eight inches, which means its length is twelve inches, and the mat guide would be set to 41/8“.

What’s Next

I’ve come up with one more printing-inspired math problem, which I will share as soon as I master a new plug-in for this blog.  After that, I’m not sure.  Response has been weak, but the former teacher in me feels a need to keep pointing out opportunities to use some of this stuff you learned in school (or is it just to torment those students who were the most difficult – I’m not telling).  This isn’t really costing anything, and I give enough warning for the math-averse to stay clear.  Stay tuned.