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  • Writer's pictureDon Wood

When Stretching is Not Good

Updated: Jan 18, 2019

For cats, stretching is great! For runners and fitness buffs, it's wonderful. For photos in your newsletter or brochure--not so good.

Keep your stretches where they belong. Avoid stretching photos by following our simple steps.

Why do people stretch photos?

People stretch photos for three reasons: 1) to fill spaces, 2) because they don't know how to size pictures properly and don't have the time or inclination to learn how, and 3) They care more about getting the job done and getting it all in than they do about making meaning and communicating the important story about real people and issues. They get so used to warped distorted images that they no longer notice that they look bad. I try to approach every job as if I were doing TIME Magazine. Even if I were the only one to read my work, I work as if millions will want to see my professional work and get to know the subject of each article. In this post, we'll work on the mindset needed to get great looking images in the space you have in your publication.

Have you ever had to repack a suitcase because you didn't put the stuff in right the first time? You take everything out then refold or roll some items, reposition some things and, voila: everything fits this time! When people work on publications (particularly when using MS Word) they find themselves facing the nightmare of making everything fit. You either have too much copy to put in a few pages or not enough to fill the space. So, you use a few pictures and distort them to fill spaces or are forced to scrunch photos that are too large into small spaces. This is where design disaster begins. But this can be where the voila moment happens for you.

Uncle Don to the rescue: Size photos without stretching and distorting

Three Thinking Tips on sizing photos in publications


Always protect the original proportions of the photo as you plan to fit it into a space. When you place photos in Word, Pages, Publisher, or (on the high end) InDesign, you're immediately faced with the most dangerous tool in the graphics world: size-handles. Those little square boxes on the corners of images are loaded with power and laced with temptation. With them you can make pictures fit any space. But let's go back to that suitcase. Suppose you tell your child, "Hey, I need you to get this package for my boss into the suitcase. I have a phone call to make and I have to leave soon. It's a very important package, so it has to get in. Can you do it?" With a confident YES your kid sets himself to the task.

As you finish your call you hear, BOOM, CRACK, WHOMP, BANG, PINGALINK, SLAM!!

you race into the room and to your surprise you see sonny boy smiling snuggly beside a neatly closed suitcase. "You did it," you say, "But what was all that noise?" The hero crows, "I had to stomp that package and jump on that suitcase, but I got it closed. You're good to go!" This is how most people deal when it comes to photos in publications. Great photos are reduced to crumpled, distorted wrecks as novice designers pull and push size-handles to smash or stretch pictures to fit spaces. But like our long lost child above, you may only know one way to size images. Remember, It's not about fitting the whole picture in a space; it's about presenting a quality image to bring clarity and interest to a story. It takes more thought and effort, but THINKING IMAGE INTEGRITY always pays in the end. But how do you size images without distorting them to fit a space? I'm glad you asked! Our next two Thinking Tips show you how to think through this process.


Fitting images effectively requires two processes: sizing and cropping. This is important! Look at the set of images above. Let's say we had limited space for the Original picture of Big Boss in our company newsletter. His picture must be in there or else! The original photo is too tall for the space you have. What do you do? Most people grab a top handle, squash the photo down, grab the side handle and pull it out--boom, the space is filled. Yeah, and it looks like Mr. Stretched at the top. Not a good look, for sure. This is the first sign of an amateur at work. Think about it: what if you were the person in the photo? How would you feel if you had submitted a high-quality professional headshot for publication and you saw "Stretched" as the published image? I would be mad and I would never want to show that mess to anyone! Cropping along with sizing is the answer to having a quality image that fits your space. It not only shows that you have a high-quality publication, but it shows that you care about the people that you present. Of course, each program has its own procedures for cropping. You'll have to look up how to find and use the crop tool in your chosen app, but cropping is critical. You'll notice that the bottom image is about the same height as the top one but it was cropped and resized to fit the space--not squashed and stretched. But to resize images without distorting, we need my third Thinking Tip.


The key to well-proportioned photos is (no pun intended. Well, yeah, it was intended.) the shift key.

Make it a rule: Before I move the size-handle, hold down the shift key. Holding the shift key constrains the proportions of the object being sized. Using the shift key as you pull or push the handles changes both the horizontal and vertical dimensions together. That solves the distortion problem but it may not give you the shape image you desire. For example: you may have a photo shaped like this:

Now you have to fit this image in a space like this:

Using the shift key and cropping, you'll do what I had to do to the image you saw earlier (I put it below so you can see it again). You may actually have to enlarge the image to fill horizontally then crop to meet the short vertical space requirement.

Note that the head size on Cropped is actually larger that that of Original. I filled the horizontal space need by holding the shift key and enlarging the image then we conquered the vertical challenge by cropping the image up to chest level. Which would you rather have: Stretched or Cropped?

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