Photographic world is clearly divided into two groups, one who crop their photos and the other who claim crop is crap. I always try and frame as much as possible while I shoot. Sometimes I can make shots look really good by cropping. I was taught to always try to get the composition I wanted in camera to eliminate the need for cropping, either in the darkroom or on the PC. I used to make a conscious effort to get the picture exactly the way I envision the final print. Unfortunately digital era with gazillion megapixel camera allowed me the liberty of cropping as I want. One thing to keep in mind, that it is you, who is creating the picture. Whether you change the story or not, it is up to you. You can change it or not, to suit your own purpose. The photograph has just started its life when you take the picture.
“There is no better time to crop a bad composition than just before you press the shutter release.” – Bryan Peterson
Many photographers throughout photography’s history seem to be against cropping. Henri Cartier-Bresson believed in composing his photographs in the viewfinder, not in the darkroom. He showcased this belief by having nearly all his photographs printed only at full-frame and completely free of any cropping or other darkroom manipulation. Similarly there are also other great photographers who created their masterpieces only after cropping their originals. Let us see some examples of great cropped photos from history.
Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda – The cropped photograph of Che Guevara is one of the most recognizable photos on planet earth. The original photo had Guevara framed alone between an anonymous person and a palm tree. The picture, with the intruding material cropped out, became Guevara’s most famous portrait. Although the original is still a strong photograph, unlikely it would have become the icon it is without the crop.
Pablo Picasso by Arnold Newman – Arnold Newman was a strong believer in doing whatever worked to improve his photographs. This obviously included cropping out about 65% of this very famous portrait. The resultant picture looks entirely different from the original but is very powerful. Final cropped portrait of Picasso, taken in France in 1954, shows only the artist in close-up, holding his hand to his brow.
Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman – Perhaps his most celebrated image is a 1946 portrait of the composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky, his expression deeply serious, is confined to the bottom left corner of the picture, cropped to his head and shoulders, an elbow resting on the piano, his hand supporting his head. The rest of the photograph is taken up by the raised lid of a large grand piano, strategically silhouetted against a blank wall, which is divided off-center into a gray and white rectangle. The lid forms the reversed shape of a leaning, abstract musical note. In this case, less is way more. This unusual but extremely effective crop has transformed an ordinary looking picture into a masterpiece.
“There are no rules and regulations for perfect composition. If there were we would be able to put all the information into a computer and would come out with a masterpiece. We know that’s impossible. You have to compose by the seat of your pants”. – Arnold Newman
“I crop for the benefit of the pictures. The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera.” – W. Eugene Smith.
So what are the different types of crops? Here are few examples. I photographed this Common Kingfisher in a field near Gurupur River. Just to illustrate the crops I have cropped the pictures into variety of crops. First one above is the commonest crop which is the Landscape format. Landscape format refers to rectangular pictures which have the long side horizontal (and so the shorter side vertical) – as is common in a picture of a landscape. You can notice the hint of water at one edge and the bird is position in the rules of thirds which allows a pleasing balanced composition.
In this photo I have composed the bird in the center using the same landscape format, as you can see it is much boring as compared to the first photo, it is because bird is bang in the center and the small patch of water which gave a significant meaning to the picture and a balance is lost. It is always a better idea to compose your picture so that your subject is on one side of the picture than in the center. In composition this is considered as rule of thirds, golden mean rule etc.
Portrait Format refers to rectangular pictures where the short side is horizontal and the longer edge vertical – as is traditional with pictures of faces – portraits. It is 90 ° to the Landscape crop. Even here center placement of the subject does not look nice.
Square Crop has 1:1 ratio and it is a simple and uncomplicated one that is particularly useful for symmetrical images, especially where there is a central point of interest (of course there’s no rules on this – unsymmetrical images can also work nicely too). Medium format cameras, toy cameras like the Holga and Diana, and smartphone apps like Instagram are making the square format more popular than ever in the digital age. Here in our Kingfisher photo, I placed subject right at the center and it looks better than the centrally placed bird in landscape format.
Panoramic crop is a horizontally wide format with shorter height. By cropping the height we emphasize more on the width. It can produce a very nice effect in a wide landscape shot by chopping off the boring elements like a bland sky.
Vertical crop format is a 90° rotation of panoramic format. It is useful when you want to emphasize tall trees, tall buildings and long roads etc. This crop has a narrow strip of vertical element and shorter width.
Here are a few reasons why you may want to crop:
- You want to improve on the composition
- There are many extraneous elements which are not needed to be there in the picture
- Many viewfinders don’t show the 100% frame so you may need to do some fine tuning of the frame.
- You’ll need to crop for some ‘standard’ print sizes.
- You may simply not have enough zoom power so to get the shot you had in mind, you need to crop.
It’s important to make a note about limits of cropping. While cropping can help improve your overall photograph, if the original was taken with a low mega pixel camera, don’t expect to lop off 3/4th of the image and still have a great quality (resolution wise) left. Cropping can gain you some great end results when used wisely. It can help make a dramatic panorama print out of an average standard photograph. And it can give you freedom to experiment with different ratios to see what you can pull out of a cluttered photograph. Be creative, try to experiment. Cropping is an easy tool to use in a computer and can help shape your photographs in a new light.
In my next blog I will talk on another type of cropping which is done by Camera manufacturers – The Cropping Factor.