Lots of beautiful images were added to our Flickr group pool at The Discerning Photographer during September, so many that it was difficult to choose the ones to talk about. Gradually I found a theme that works for this group, though. This month, the critique will be all about cropping and how it can make a good photograph even better.
Years ago, many street photographers filed out the borders of their enlarger negative carriers so they could print a black border, proof that their image was ‘pure and untouched’ by any attempt at improvement after the moment the shutter was snapped. (The ‘Decisive Moment’ was considered sacrosanct, and who were you to fiddle with anything after the moment the image was created? Or so the reasoning went.) The black borders were beautiful, but beyond that, I’ve concluded that this was mostly an artistic affectation that did nothing to improve the aesthetics of the image: in other words, hogwash. Nowadays if you want that pretty filed-out-looking black border, you’ll simply add it in Photoshop, won’t you?
So I’m a believer in a good crop, when cropping improves the overall aesthetics of the result. Today we’ll look at some submissions that were perfectly cropped (IMHO) and some that we can improve with the judicious use of the cropping tool. Here we go:
‘Pheasant Feathers Headress,’ by GreerBrooks.
I love the crop here. The crop is tight, tight, tight: everything has been cropped to turn what would have been an okay portrait of an Indian headdress into something else entirely: now it’s almost an abstraction, the head becoming the counterpoint to the rich rushing colors of all those feathers. Think about it: crop the feathers top and to the right, and now it makes sense to crop the face. This is beautifully done, and by a new member of our Flickr group! GreerBrooks, tell us about this image! Did you shoot it this tight or come up with the crop afterwards?
‘Bride to Be,’ by Antonio Silva.
Here’s a very nice bit of street photography by Antonio Silva. If you’ve been following the group pool, then you know that this is the type of image that Antonio excels at: he’s a true ‘street photographer’ in the best sense of the word. But this is one that I think improves with a crop: mostly to the top, although I’ve also shaved it just a bit on the right (didn’t want to lose the head of that last girl on the right). Now the focus is even more closely drawn on the bride and her friends without the distractions that exist at the top of this image.
‘Stairway to…,’ by Ruben Alexander.
An image by another new member of the Flickr group: welcome! This type of shot is usually much harder to pull off than you might think at first glance (unless you own the lighthouse). I love the muted colors and the beautiful spiral, drawing my eye up and in. The composition is perfect to my eye, no adjustment needed.
‘Tess 28,’ by KBT Images.
KBT has been shooting a lot of beautiful models recently and this one is a stunner. But I have to say I found the original version of this submission didn’t take advantage of those incredible eyes(!). What would it look like if we came in just a bit on the crop and then increased the contrast some with Levels and Curves, followed by some selective sharpening of the eyes? This is what I did to achieve the second version on the right. KBT, what do you think?
‘Slow Unroll,’ by Sean Garrett.
I think this composition is perfect: the unfurling frond (or whatever this actually is) fills the frame in dramatic fashion, the overall curl of the stem repeated and mirrored by each individual element along the stem.
‘Boat on Land,’ by Ana Matos.
‘Boat on Land’ is another image that I find to be perfectly cropped. The strong diagonals of the rails coming in from the bottom left corner draw my eyes directly into the boat, which sits just enough off-center to be interesting. I also think the swirl of the clouds works with the curves in the boat hull, providing balance and interest for the top third of this photograph. Ana explains in her notes on the Flickr post that this is a salvage job on a bad initial exposure. Based on the tonalities, I’m guessing this was overexposed initially. I find the soft, grainy feel that we have here works well for this image. Anna, do you feel like this version works now?
‘Boat and Door,’ by Bernd Limbach
Top image is Bernd’s original Flickr submission, the bottom is my slightly cropped and toned reworking of the same shot. I think the roof in this photo is a distraction that does nothing for the overall visual back-and-forth between the boat and the door, so I eliminated it. I also bumped the saturation up just a bit to further play off the yellow-blue vibrations that are being created here. This is an example of an image that can be strengthened by a careful crop and bit of toning. Bernd, any objections to these changes? Your thoughts?
‘Lines and Shadows,’ by Joe Chan.
Joe shoots mostly outdoors so I found this recent series of interiors that he’s been working on intriguing. This one works perfectly for me: I love the contrast between the warm zigzag of the stair diagonals with the softer, cooler curve at the top of the image. Well done, Joe!
So do you have a favorite image out of this set? One that you think stands head and shoulders above the rest? Which one? Tell us what you think of these images in the Comments section below, and let’s get the conversation started!
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. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog