Photo Cropping for Improved Results: September Flickr critique selections

Our September Flickr group critique is all about cropping--some thoughts for fine-tuning images. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Our September Flickr group critique is all about cropping--some thoughts for fine-tuning images. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

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.

'Pheasant Feathers Headress,' by GreerBrooks.

'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.

'Bride to Be,' by Antonio Silva.

'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.

'Stairway to...,' by Ruben Alexander. Notes: Tangasseri Point Lighthouse, southern India, built by the British East India Co. around 1900.

'Stairway to...,' by Ruben Alexander. Notes: Tangasseri Point Lighthouse, southern India, built by the British East India Co. around 1900.

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.

'Tess 28,' by KBT Images.

'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.

'Slow Unroll,' by Sean Garrett.

'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,' by Ana Matos.

'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

'Boat and Door,' by Bernd Limbach

'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.

'Lines and Shadows,' by Joe Chan.

'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

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About the Author:

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

12 Comments on "Photo Cropping for Improved Results: September Flickr critique selections"

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  1. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks again for taking the time to critique one of my images. I was going for an airy feeling in the photo hence the brightness. I will revisit the image and add some contrast and revisit the eyes. In your version the eyes are a little too over sharpened for my liking :o).



  2. Ana Matos says:

    Hi to all,

    about my photo I think it works because of the composition, that´s the reason for picking it out. The exposure used was -1/3EV but the ISO 200, I didn´t notice that I was using that ISO. On my powershot 80 is the lowest and best for shooting, 200 it´s for other kinda photos. Reducing the noise on Lr wasn´t a perfect job, reducing the noise results in less sharpened images. So the grainy in the sky is nice, some softness in the main object also interesting but the problem is on the water surface, it´s irremediable, with or without edition, due to the high ISO. It has the drama, it´s a good photo to critique but it´s a patchwork in the end 😉 .

    ‘Pheasant Feathers Headress,’ by GreerBrooks: Reminds me the difficulty to choose on the spot the right crop or the one that could work well for our purpose.

    ‘Bride to Be,’ by Antonio Silva: The crop made by Andrew is well grounded but I would had made only a crop on the left side, in this case I like the presence of the all background to understand the context of the photo.

    ‘Tess 28,’ by KBT Images: It´s obvious the difference between the two photos, although I like soft portraits (original) I also like that sharpened eyes and the proximity by the crop.

    ‘Boat and Door,’ by Bernd Limbach: I wouldn´t had made the crop, I like the presence of the roof to give another dimension but the toning adjustments are important.

    ‘Stairway to…,’ by Ruben Alexander: It´s perfect and amazing.

  3. I agree, I hit it a bit too hard. Great shot though, Kevin.

  4. antonio silva says:

    Hi Andrew
    Thank you for your advice and critique.
    This was taken in Lisbon on a Saturday afternoon as I was about to go back home after a rather frustating shooting day. The light was tough ( right behind the group) and they were moving fast – not the best conditions to shoot MF)))
    Anyway I was lucky and got a couple of decent shoots although my favorite was ruined by a terrible flare.
    As for your suggested crop I agree with you. It improves the image as nothing important is lost and increases the presence of the main subject. thanks.

    take care

  5. Thanks for the info, Antonio. I’ve really been enjoying your submissions to the group!

  6. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you very much for picking up and critiquing one of my pics. It is much appreciated!
    As you rightly said, it wasnt an easy shot which was made more difficult by the lighthouse keeper as he wanted me out of the lighthouse ASAP, since he was in preparation mode to turn the lights on 🙂
    But thanks again, and looking forward to having more of my photographs on your critique and other pages of the The Discerning Photographer website.


  7. Thanks Ana for the appreciation on my photograph 🙂

  8. Ruben, thanks for the information. I knew there was a ‘story’ behind this beautiful image!

  9. Greer Brooks says:

    Thank you for choosing my picture! This was taken at a Native American festival that was held outside of Nashville, Tn. The original image is a view from his soulders up. There is a lot of distraction in the backgruond
    like spectators, booths and fencing. Since I felt it was an unusable image the way it was I started to experiment by cropping. The more I cropped the better I liked the image. Now it focuses on the intended subject, the feathers. I shoot a lot og “fill the frame” pctures and sometimes crop them even more. I fell that I get carried away sometimes. Again thank you for your comments and suggestions,

  10. Great story, Greer! Really backs up the main point of this whole series. Thanks for sharing the info.

  11. belimbach says:

    also thanks from Germany for choosing one of my images. I absolutely did not expect you to select this image, because I like other images I uploaded form my Svalbard tour much better. But this image serves the purpose of cropping quite del, I must admit.
    WIth the toning I am with you. The only thing I did was to adjust the histogram, so black and white point, but I did not touch the saturation.
    With the crop I have some mixed feelings, because I remember how I shot that image. I think your cropped version is stronger, but lacks some sort of dimension, which I believe I intended to achieve. Saying that my original images is far away from being perfect (who wants a perfect image anyway? ;-), I probably would show more roof and the side walls of the house and not only that little bit of roof on top. With that in mind, your cropping suggests how to simplify the image and with thus make it stronger.
    Fine, no problem with that.

    ‘Pheasant Feathers Headress,’ by GreerBrooks: Great, fist after reading your and the others comment, so cropping everywhere a bit can make it good.

    ‘Bride to Be,’ by Antonio Silva: Street photography is not my style, so I am rather lost with images like this. Please don’t feel bad about it, Antonio!

    ‘Slow Unroll,’ by Sean Garrett:Like these kind of Macro shots (?), Reminds me on my little Siebengebirgs dragon

    ‘Stairway to…,’ by Ruben Alexander: Simple form, three dimensions, also pretty. Timeless shot.

    ‘Tess 28,’ by KBT Images: Your crop and adjustments makes it completely different. And KBT explained, why he uploaded the original image.

    ‘Boat on Land,’ by Ana Matos: Ana simply makes great images!

    ‘Lines and Shadows,’ by Joe Chan: I think this is the image, which inspired you to call for shadows on the next assignment. 😉 I cannot add more details to the written words from you and others.

    Thank you very much for the investment o time you put into the flickr critique. It’s helpful and motivates.


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