Tutorial: Why aspect ratio is important

[This article was originally published in Kultivate magazine on February 23, 2016. I’m republishing some of my more useful articles on my blog.]

Good aspect ratio
Photo by Myra Wildmist. All rights reserved

Taking good photographs, whether in real life or Second Life, means you have to get a little technical. Don’t be scared: If Second Life has taught me anything, it’s that anyone – even I – can learn the tech needed to be creative.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a programmer or 3D modeler to be a good photographer. You just need to know some basic settings.

One of the most important settings many new photographers to Second Life overlook is the aspect ratio.

What is an aspect ratio?

An aspect ratio is two numbers that reflects the proportional relationship between the width and height of an image. The units of measurement – pixels, centimeters, inches, whatever – aren’t important; the proportional relationship between the width and height determines the aspect ratio.

A 512 x 512 texture has an aspect ratio of 1:1, but so does any square face. Older VGA monitors had aspect ratios of 4:3, supporting displays of 1024 x 768 or 800 x 600 pixels, but so did old analog televisions. The Mona Lisa’s dimensions are 77 cm x 53 cm; its aspect ratio is 77:53 or 1.45:1.

Today, the most common aspect ratio is 16:9. It is used in high-definition televisions (1920 x 1080 pixels), Mac retina displays (4096 x 2304 pixels), and most PC monitors. For this reason, it is also a popular aspect ratio used by SL photographers.

Common widescreen film has an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and theatrical anamorphic widescreen (i.e. Panavision) is 2.39:1. These wider aspect ratios are used by some SL landscape photographers, giving their work that widescreen feel.

Why is aspect ratio important?

Why is aspect ratio important? Because you don’t want to put a rectangular image on a square object face – SL will stretch the image in a way you never intended (This happens in in other applications that use images, too, such as WordPress.).

Good aspect ratio
Good aspect ratio. Photo by Myra Wildmist. All rights reserved

 

Bad aspect ratio
Bad aspect ratio. The horizontal and vertical size doesn’t match the aspect ratio of the original image. Photo by Myra Wildmist. All rights reserved

The top image has an aspect ratio of 16:9 and is displayed correctly. The bottom image demonstrates what happens when you put a rectangular image in a square frame.

In the context of SL photography, you don’t want to put you high-def, 1920 x 1080 (16:9 aspect ratio) image on a 512 x 512 (1:1 aspect ratio) object face. When you do that your image gets compressed and distorted.

Knowing the aspect ratio of your image, you can use it display your photo accurately.

Using aspect ratio to display your images accurately

Never “eyeball” the size of your canvas! Don’t add your image to an object face, then stretch the canvas (object) until it looks right.

The aspect ratio of your image and the aspect ratio of the face of the object you’re adding it to should be exactly the same. Even small differences might “look” okay, but will still cause distortions to your image. Don’t put a 1920 x 1080 image in a 1919 x 1000 space. Be precise. Be OCD.

If you want to put your high-def, 16:9 photo on an in-world canvas, the size of the canvas face should match the aspect ratio of your photo.

For instance, the size of your canvas face could be 1.6 meters by .9 meters or 3.2 by 1.8 or 4.8 by 2.7. You get the idea. The units are not important – it could be centimeters, inches, or any unit measure you want to use; it’s only important to maintain the aspect ratio, the proportions between height and width.

When displaying your photo, whether in SL, on your blog, or elsewhere, use your photo’s aspect ratio to accurately display your work. Don’t put a rectangular image in a square hole.

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