Sunday, February 26, 2012

To Crop Or Not To Crop

In a perfect world every photo I take would be perfectly framed and composed. All the elements of the photo that I want to be there would be, and anything that I didn't want in the image wouldn't be. Unfortunately that rarely happens. I would love to be able to tell you that every image I shoot is exactly the way I planned it. But .....

I crop. Some photographers say they never do, and if that is true then some wonderful images must wind up on the cutting room floor because of unwanted elements in the frame. I crop because of the way I shoot - holding the camera at chest level and shooting without lifting it to my eye. My images very often have a slight tilt to them, and if it works for the shot, I include that. But it often doesn't work, so I straighten the shot.  Sometimes the main subject is not placed exactly in the frame where I want it to be, so I crop and adjust it to get the composition just right. I usually shoot with a very wide angle lens so I get enough space around the image to have room to do this. I don't think cropping is any different than dodging and burning, or adjusting contrast. It's another tool in the kit. 

In this image I wanted to create a feeling of depth and motion to move the eye through the shot. That's created by the diagonal line that runs from the lower right corner to the other side of the image. The vertical lines of the main subject interrupt the flow of that line, and say 'Here I am. Look at me'. In the original image they were off center. I always try to maintain the proportions of the 35mm negative in the crop. Some people like square images, I like the opportunity to use the frame to create the feeling of dimension. The three characters in the center of the image are in focus, and the outer edges are not with an increase in blur as the background recedes. It gives the image depth. That's the way I saw this image when I shot it. It's not what I got in the camera - so I cropped it. The moment was gone in a second. No chance to check the LCD to see if I got it right and reshoot it if I didn't. 

And by the way, when I was shooting film, a long time ago in a galaxy far away, there was absolutely no way to tell if I got the shot until I got home, loaded the film onto the spool, developed it, and made a contact sheet. Should I have not made a print because I didn't get it right within the frame?


  1. Gene, Much like you, I crop when I have to for artistic purposes. I really don't understand the line of thought that says you shouldn't crop. Yes, in a perfect world we'd all frame it spot on in camera. However, it's not a perfect world. If it were we wouldn't be shooting in RAW, and there would be no need for Lightroom :-) If cropping is verbotten, can dodging and burning be far behind?

  2. Joe, you are absolutely in line with my thinking on this. I had a teacher in Parsons who took pride in saying that he never cropped, but I worked with him as a dark room assistant once, and he spent mucho time dodging and burning an image - that was OK. I was at a talk this past week at which another old-time photographer said much the same thing - he never cropped. Good for them, I say. I'm cropping away. And by the way, One of the most celebrated documentary photographers of all time - W. Eugene Smith, who practically single handedly developed the concept of the photo essay for Life Magazine - not only cropped, dodged, and burned .... he bleached parts of his images, and in one case in particular actually created an overlay to put an element into the image that was never there originally. I know he cropped like crazy!

  3. Well, I don't know where your teacher in Parson photos wound up, but I know where I can find W. Eugene Smith! :-) Absolutely love his series on the country doctor.

  4. Great shot and great write up, Gene. Like you, I crop when I need to. But, since most of my work is from a tripod using zoom lenses, cropping is rarely needed. I do remember the days when I was printing from 4x5 negatives, then 120/220 square, and cropping was a way of life along with all of the other darkroom tricks. Kinda miss that sometimes.

  5. Well add me to the list of people who crap :) i believe it is needed to show your vision to convey the message :)

  6. You're right Gene. Cropping is important. Someone said: Look out in the four corners of your photo - If there is something, that´s not important - through it away. Not all subjects are made for the format 3:2.

  7. Nice post Gene. I miss seeing your work on that other site! Keep your old fans posted on where you next make home for your many images. - Steve (sjspix)

    1. Steve, thanks for your comment here. I have been posting my work in two places. The photo sharing site (the link to my gallery is in the upper right hand corner of this page) where you will find many familiar people who have migrated from the debacle at and my NAPP portfolio. Which reminds me, I should include that in a link on this blog.

  8. I once read a word of an old photographer and say what is needed is a camera and an enlarger for developing and expanding what you're interested, we now use PS and the crop tool, so nothing new.
    You have a great eye for street scenes and big city give a lot of oportunitys to catch!
    Like this shot Gene!