So you take your digital photo. You look at the image. Everything you wanted in the picture is in. Nobody looks like they've got a tree growing out of their head and nobody important is cut out of the shot. None of those irritating members of the public has wandered into shot. Great. Get that printed. Ah. Now the problems begin...
Recently I went on honeymoon and a couple of months later I had my wedding party (in that order for reasons far too complicated to explain here). Photos from things such as these are for life and even those who usually just stick to looking at stuff on their computers are likely to print those ones, right?
Digital cameras default to an aspect ratio of 4:3. I'd explain why, but it'd be long, technical and boring and I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps a daft designer loved the old TV format we all started throwing out around the time digital cameras became popular. Many cameras can't be adjusted to anything else. Photo paper is not 4:3, or 8:6 or even 5.33 to 4. Photo paper is 6x4, 7x5, 10x8. The reason for this is quite clear. People are idiots.
In the old days things used not to be so bad. People didn't get to see their image the moment they took it (even with a Polaroid – "one of them Paranoid cameras" as Les Dawson called it in that advert – people had long since dispersed by the time the image was clear). So people were cautious and made sure everything important was well within the viewfinder. In addition, 35mm film is quite close to a 6:4 ratio. I still use it sometimes and I just measured it (36x24mm for those who haven't had enough numbers yet). Thus, even with a bit of cropping, everything generally turned out fine. Nowadays, not only have you seen the image on the camera, but you've also loaded it onto the computer, shown it to a few people and maybe added it to your screensaver slide show before you've got around to printing it. THAT image is exactly what you want.
The default scenario, though, is that everything is cropped. If you print at home you can avoid this, by printing everything with white borders. I tried this for a while and it meant all my new photos looked different from the older ones and when I had to buy a new printer I landed up with one that should have been up to the job but simply wasn't. I considered getting a new printer but couldn't imagine I'd be allowed to do a test run before purchase. I thought having to go to a photo shop meant at least I wouldn't have the silly borders. I went to an independent specialist, comfortable in the knowledge they'd understand. 'Full image' they wrote on my order. They said they'd cut the paper to the length of the image. Back they came, with the paper cut to 5.33x4 inches... cropped on every side. Cutting the bride's happy thumbs-up or slicing my mother in half was not how I wanted my pictures, to say nothing of all the Rocky mountains that had faded to nothing in the honeymoon shots. They weren't up to the job either.
So to an internet search which yielded the options of loading up a couple of thousand megabytes – heck, that's into gigabytes – to trust in some company I've never heard of and couldn't talk to, to send me everything by post, or taking it to a photo chain store whose website promised they could cut to variable lengths. I called them. No. The website lied. 6x4, take it or leave it. I could, I was told, by a voice that brought to mind the acne-ridden squeaky teen of The Simpsons, 'shrink to fit' to leave my prints with an odd-looking border on the short sides. This is the opposite of the images from the wedding photographer who resized her images to leave me with an unwanted border on the long sides – which the default setting at the photo store will still print. Either way, that's a lot of painstaking scissor work for hundreds of prints. At this point, I'd just like to say "NYYAAAARRRGGGHH!!"
Therefore, if you want your full images printed, without borders, here's what I suggest. Find someone with an obscene amount of money. Make them give it to me. I will open up a photo chain that will print uncropped images in 4:3 ratios, cutting my paper to size until I have badgered my suppliers into providing 8x6 and 5.33x4 inch paper. Sorted.