BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 

Working with a Commercial Lab

When I get my pictures back from the store, it's like they cropped them down a little ... as if they were re-sized from the original upload. Is there any way to avoid that? For example, if I upload a picture of a full-size hand, when I get the picture back, the fingertips will be missing.

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10/20/2006 8:01:43 PM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Raul,
Most labs currently print on conventional color paper, as the cost of materials are superior as compared to a digital solution. Images are projected onto light sensitive paper which is then chemically developed. Cost of materials is about 5 or 6 cents per 4x6 prints for a mass merchandiser. Mom and pop labs pay more.
Film is projected onto this paper using a fixed or zoom lens. Digital images are also projected. The digital projection can be a laser source or fibber optic array or virtual negative formed via a liquid crystal display (LCD) or cathode ray tube (CRT) and other methods also in use.

In every case the projected image must be a slight enlargement. A two percent overspill is the standard. Sloppy labs might have slightly more enlargement. The projected image can be made smaller (nearer to unity with the print size), however, a black line is likely to form at one or more of the print edges. This is due to the fact that all printing must be produced at high speed or else the margin of profit will suffer. Paper waste due to under projection canít be tolerated.
You gain as consequences of high-speed production as the price of photofinishing has been reduced or remains the same since 1955 when color printing at a local lab was first introduced. Back then it was $1.00 to develop the film and 30Ę per print. Remarkable when you consider that material costs are now lower - so too is labor costs due to machine automation. The average per print charge is 18 cents.
You should know that most modern printers now utilize a zoom projection lens. It is possible to cause this projection to be at unity with the paper size. If you become friendly with your local lab they could accommodate. Most likely to accommodate special handling meaning extra charge is justified. Now in 2006, the profit margin of a one-hour lab is in the toilet, and the mom and pop lab will soon be a rarity. The mass merchandise photo lab is a lost leader to keep the customer in the store longer.
Home printing using future digital devices will wipe out this merchandising channel inshort order.
Alan Marcus

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10/20/2006 10:43:21 PM

Steve Mescha
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/22/2002
  Hi Raul,
While it's interesting to read Alan's response, I'm not sure he addressed your problem. I think the aspect ratio of the images from your camera simply don't fit the print size you're odering. Open one of your images in a software program on your computer and check the image size. Resize the image so it's 6" on the long side and you will probably find that it's either more or less than 4" on the short side. Also note that a 4x6 image cannot be changed to 5x7 without cropping the long side. One solution is to edit your images in a software program and make them fit into the desired size, either by cropping, or by adding a white border to the desired size. the other alternative is to use a lab that will do the work for you. Here's a link to a great on-line lab that will give you exactly what you want. They are fast and reasonably priced. Good luck!

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10/24/2006 5:27:44 AM

Bill Boswell   Actually I think the answer is much simpler than the cost of printing...the ratio of length to width varies with common print sizes and the labs upsize the print to make the shortest dimension fit the page.

If you are shooting with a popular SLR, the digital image is in a ratio of 2:3 so the short edge is 2/3rds the lenght of the long edge. This is a different ration than an 8*10 where the ratio is 4:5. For your 2:3 image to fit on an 8*10 page, the length should actually be 12", not 10" to give you the same ratio and to include everything in your print. When it gets printed as an 8*10, then 1" on the left and right must get cropped so the short edge (the 8" side) fills the print.

This is the same concept as showing a wide screen DVD on your TV and you get black bars on the top. In that case, the DVD player does not crop anything from the ends and instead fills the blank space with black bars.

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10/24/2006 5:38:22 AM

ej deleon   hi, I was surfing on the Kodak gallery website and it seems they automatically crop a bit. There is an option to select for them NOT to do this so you get all of your print. You might try them.

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10/24/2006 6:33:07 AM

Devon McCarroll
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2005
  Digital photos have a different aspect ratio than 35mm film. Because of this, I always crop my photos to the size I want before sending them off for printing. Otherwise, to maintain the entire image in anything larger than 4x6, you'll need to print specialty sizes (i.e. 16x24 vs. 16x20).
This article (link below) gives a good eplanation:


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10/24/2006 7:49:02 AM

Mark Groves   Hi Raul,
You didn't say what camera you are shooting. Some cameras let you choose which image ratio you record with. I shoot at 2:3 (4x6) and crop any other size I need in PS Mark

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10/24/2006 7:59:00 AM

John Singleton
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/11/2006
Contact John
John's Gallery
  Full frame 35 mm is larger than the typical print size that most labs print. Example: Lab prints 5 X 7, but the full size 35 mm is 5 X 7.5. So you lose a half an inch. 8 X 10 would be 8 X 12 full frame. 4 X 6 is full frame, so you don't notice a difference there, it is the larger photos where you notice a problem. So you should either ask for the full frame size (if they offer it) or resise your photos before sending the image to be printed.

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10/24/2006 8:38:05 AM

Kelly J. Heggart   It's this simple; resize your photo to 4 x 6 in photoshop our whatever software you use and it will print exactly as you see it. Also, tell the lab "NO COLOUR ADJUSTMENT," if you have tweaked the colour in photoshop as their machines do an automatic adjustment, ruining all your hours in photoshop, tinkering to get it just right. It is frustrating. Even at the drugstore lab, if they are sized to 4 x 6, 360 dpi and make sure they write no colour adjustment on the envelope for the lab - you will get the results you are looking for.

Vancouver Island

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10/24/2006 9:07:58 AM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi again all,

A little history:
Thomas Edison invented the Kinescope in 1889. This was the first motion picture system. Edison and George Eastman together established the film size. Eastman (Kodak) was already producing 70mm roll film. Slitting this film is half yielded an economical 35mm width. Edison needed sprocket holes along the edges to allow accurate mechanical transport through the camera and projector. Allowing for the perforations, the image area established was 18mm x 24mm.

In 1913 when Ernst Leitz introduced the Leica camera in a commercial version. This camera used the now readily available 35mm perforated film. It was necessary to retain the 24mm image width but Leica engineers doubled the 18mm length establishing the image size 24mm x 36mm. The aspect ratio is 36/24= 1.5. This remains the defacto standard for the 35mm film camera.

Hands down, the majority of photofinishing prints produced in America is 4x6 inches printed on 4 inch width paper. This print size has an aspect ratio of 1.5 and which is an exact fit for 35mm film. When printing, film is held by a negative gate, it is slightly smaller than 24x36mm. This cropping is necessary because if the image area is not square to the carrier one or more clear edges will show. When this happens it presents a challenge to the printerís sensors and logic. Often the result will be a substandard print. Additional cropping is also a function of the projection lens which by necessity is set to overspill.

The digital camera owes its origins to the popularization of the movie camcorder. These cameras utilized a chip with an aspect ratio taken from standard TV sets. This ratio is 1.333. Most digitals, except for the high end full frame type (which are 24x36mm) utilize this ratio. Using 4 inch wide print paper the printed image works out to be 4 x 5.33 inches. Most labs however make a 4x6 print. If the printer is adjusted to make a print from these digitals, a fit the 6 inch length, the width will be 4.5 inches which is an overspill of Ĺ inch. To fit this image on 4 inch paper, ľ of an inch is lopped off at both top and bottom. Most printers however are set to overspill the 6 inch length which means cropping occurs on all sides, most severe is at the top and bottom.

Itís difficult to achieve image to paper exact matches. The problem gets worse when you request 8x10 or other sizes far a field from the aspect ratios discussed. I advise stepping back as you compose as this allow for copping especially true if you are using a lab that caters mainly to the armature trade.

Alan Marcus

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10/24/2006 9:57:24 AM

anonymous A.    Fortunately, many photo labs offer "digital size" prints, using paper sizes which match the ratio of the image sensor. For years, 35mm (1.5:1) enlargement ratio has been available from 1 hour photo processors (8x12 is the same price as 8x10 at my local "Snappy Photo" store).

It is at least 2 years ago that the high volume department stores started offering no-crop printing from digital cameras at 15c to 30c per picture. And if you don't like the results, most reprint at no extra cost.

Now, I am in Sydney (Ausralia), but I know this holds true for Melbourne and Newcastle, because I have used the services there when travelling. It strikes me as unlikely that similar services would not be available in the States or Europe.

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10/24/2006 4:53:59 PM

Paul S. Fleming   Hi Raul, I have read the answers to your question with great interest as I also have had this problem. I do not have Photoshop. Through their vast knowledge, the member's were kind enough to give you many ways to solve this problem. I have a different way. I simply place my subject in the finder and leave space on the top and bottom end on the long side so that when the prints come back they fill the frame from top to bottom without anything cropped out of my shot. Give it a try. It worked for me, and didn't cost me a dime. I have learned so much from the members who give of their valuable time answering questions that I thought I would try and give something back. Shoot away Raul, "PS" Fleming

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10/24/2006 6:15:33 PM

Ben LindoPhotography   Someone probably already said this, but your camera is making the photos the wrong width to height ratio, well not wrong, but its not the perfect size for making 4x6 photos, maybe 8x10 would be a better fit, im not sure.

If you have photo editing software such as photoshop or something simular u can resize the photo (it may be necessary to crop and cut off part of the image
yourself) this way you can control which parts will get cut off and not.

or When taking photos, just to be on the safe side make sure theres anough border around the subject so that if the sides get cut off when printed, the main subject wont be affected.

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10/24/2006 7:09:28 PM



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10/24/2006 8:20:55 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Raul,

I'm sure by now you have the answer.
YOU must crop the image before going to the 1 hour kiosk or sending to a lab.
It is a little tedious since many people want sizes other than 4x6.

Many here remember their days of B&W printing. Anytime we enlarged, (i.e) moved the enlarger head further from the paper, we "lost" some of the original image at the edges. If we wanted a particular "edge" printed, we moved the paper.

I would advise against simply leaving enough "border" when shooting. This method is a little on the "Voodoo" side of things with you guessing what will crop and what will not. Of course you don't want to "tight" crop anything in composition.

With time and practice, you will begin to see how a image will crop to various sizes.
When you crop an image to 4x6 and then 8x10, you will see they are vastly different when working with image sensors other than the standard 35mm.

The only way to totally avoid cropping is buy a camera for each size you will be printing, and make contact prints. LOL Just kidding.


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10/25/2006 4:14:45 AM

Vanessa Rabayda
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2007
  It seems like everyone here knows the correct answer or the correct way to do things.
I have a similar problem, and I have already done everything said in here. I fix all my photography using corel. I've resized the photos to the exact dimensions that I want my photos (8x10). I have resized them bigger than that, so that they have room to fit. I have put my own border, so I know exactly what they are cropping. NOTHING works! I've gotten photos back extra sharp, which ruins my long-hours work. I have used more than one different lab, to compare. No lab so far has gotten them right.

To me, it seems like the only way around this is by purchasing your own lab and do them at home. Of course you run will run through expensive paper and ink, but at least you'll have control of everything.
I found these personal lab printers from Epson:

I'm considering getting one of those soon.

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7/17/2007 11:21:10 AM

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