Cropping Decisions

Previewing gladiola photos in the Photo Mechanic browser. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Previewing gladiola photos in the Photo Mechanic browser. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

I recently photographed some yellow gladiolas out on the fence of our vegetable garden, just after an early morning rain shower. The blossoms were bent over from the rain, parallel with the ground, not yet fallen over from the added weight of the moisture.

They were beautiful and I was drawn to shoot them.

Back looking at a contact sheet in Photo Mechanic, things got tougher. Which was the best image? Did it need a crop?

Here's the uncropped version of the gladiolas photograph. Canon 50mm macro, 1/50th sec @f2.5, ISO 400. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Here's the uncropped version of the gladiolas photograph. Canon 50mm macro, 1/50th sec @f2.5, ISO 400. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Cropping is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal when working on our photographs. It plays such a huge role in composition yet is not often discussed. Usually we only think about it when things didn’t quite work out in camera: much better to simply see and shoot it the way you want it to end up! But this is not always possible.

With the gladiola photos, I had several that I liked….okay. Should I crop in from the top and left? Would the composition be better as a square?

We could talk now about all of the ‘rules’ of composition…but  I think these are a lot like the ‘rules’ of lighting: armchair quarterbacking after the fact, real rear-view perspectives on what at its core is a completely intuitive process: which composition creates the strongest response in me, the shooter and viewer?

The same image cropped about square. I decided the trailing off of all that yellow on the left was distracting. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

The same image cropped about square. I decided the trailing off of all that yellow on the left was distracting. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

So I played around with a few versions of this image.  Ultimately I decided I liked this squarish version best…at least for today!

What about you? Do you have a set approach to cropping? Do you never crop your photos? Why not? Or if you do crop sometimes, how do you go about it? Consciously or intuitively?

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

5 Comments on "Cropping Decisions"

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  1. pj finn says:

    I crop quite a bit — sometimes to remove a distracting edge, sometimes to tighten up an arrangement, sometimes to change a picture’s proportions. I don’t really go by any set approach, I go by what feels the best.

  2. Syd Weedon says:

    I don’t tend to crop unless there is just something that really bothers me in the frame, or if it jumps out at me that this picture could be massively improved by the cropping. The reason is purely practical: I’m often shooting images to go into ads and documents and leaving some extra space around the subject gives the layout people some leeway in fitting the shot onto a page.

  3. I crop more or less in an intuitive way, I believe.

    What I quite often use is either a square crop (1) or a crop to achieve a panoramic effect of the picture (2).

    Examples:

    (1):
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/belimbach/4708471750/

    (2):
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/belimbach/4670450357/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/belimbach/4636256325/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/belimbach/4636583120/

    Ok, this was some a shameless self marketing, but I am sure the reader understands what I mean. In all of them I had to crop to bring the subjects as the central element into the picture. In (2) the panoramic view was a second reason to do the crop like I did. Luckily this can be done, even that a lot of pixels are wasted. For screen viewing this is ok for me, for printing that will be another story…

  4. Elin says:

    Beautiful photos, as always. Cropping is definitely my favorite photo editing tool. I can remember the first time I ever cropped a photo how blown away I was over the dramatic difference it made in the quality of the photo, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I would say that I crop about 90% of my photos, as there is almost always something in the frame that the photo can do without. I also like to rotate some of my images to create a more edgy effect. Cropping is usually the first editing decision I make, as the outcome usually directs my other editing decisions.

    One thing that always concerns me is what size I should be using when I crop my photos. If I am preparing the photo for myself or someone I know, its not a problem, but when I sell prints online, I have no way of knowing what size my customers will want to order their prints in, so I’m looking ideas and general rules of thumb that others might use to deal with this issue – sort of an ideal ‘one size fits all’ ratio that will prevent key elements of the photo from being further cropped by the lab in order to accommodate the desired print size. If you have any suggestions or helpful hints, please share!

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