CROPPING THEN AND NOW
I find that the longer I work as a photographer, the less sure I am, the more relative things seem, when it comes to image cropping. Although I always work to find the best composition possible when out in the field, it’s interesting to me how sometimes things change once I’m back with Photoshop, my ‘digital darkroom.’
Early in my career, the fashion was to file out the edge borders of your negative carrier and print the resulting black border, thus ‘proving’ that you had printed the entire, uncropped image. This was deemed as a purer expression of artistic intent…or maybe we just really, really liked the black borders! I’m not sure. I still like black borders as a way to set off an image edge and give it definition, only these days I add the border in Photoshop. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I view image cropping as a part of the creative process of image-making. Sometimes it’s a vital part of the process.
A CASE IN POINT
The lead image for this article is a good example of how cropping can improve an image. The original composition is below.
I originally was attracted to this line of trees, and the notion of lining them up parallel to these concrete barriers. It seemed like a decent, not great composition. I shot it and moved on, not feeling particularly strongly about the shot. Then while doing the initial edit from this shooting trip, I saw the other possibility: by cropping the image up and making it a square-vertical, I could emphasize the foggy ‘tunnel’ through the trees, with the glowing light out in the distance:
This was powerful and attractive. I also really liked what reducing the barriers down to the single center post did for the foreground. I now had essentially two main trees with a foggy light tunnel beyond, with the center post leading your eye from the foreground to the tunnel (that, at least, is how my brain is processing this image). I also brought the contrast up and spent some time toning the top rail of the cement barrier, making sure it would become a bright highlight and of a similar tonal value to the distant foggy highlights.
So with cropping and some time spent ‘reimagining’ the scene in my digital darkroom, a throwaway photo becomes a keeper.
What about you? Do you spend enough time in front of your images after you’ve shot them? Do you try more than the first crop that occurs to you? Of course it’s nice to not need crops, but when that’s not the case, how hard do you work on this part of the process?
Food for thought.
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