Jason, one of our subscribers sent me this question:
“Usually I try to compose my pictures the best I can in the camera and only need to do minor cropping when editing. But sometimes I see something interesting, e.g., shapes, people and light but can’t get close enough due to traffic or other things. I’m currently shooting with an X100f so no zoom there except for digital zoom but a bit slow sometimes. I would sometimes see something interesting and take a photo, have a look at it and decide what I want to keep and crop out so decide on my final composition in post-editing. I know that minor cropping is fine but sometimes I crop up to 70% of the photo just to get what I want. There is probably no right or wrong answer but I just want to hear your thoughts – how much is too much?
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
This is the original photo, I see that the legs of chairs from reflection interest me so I try to get something out of it to include the guy and the girl on the bench. I knew there were too many distracting things in there so had to crop some stuff out.”
After the crop
Wow! What great “seeing,” Kevin! A few weeks back I started to jot down some thoughts about working on an already captured frame and post-processing. When doing so, I was looking for some examples to illustrate my point. In the meantime, I received this question from Jason and couldn’t be happier about it. Not only does it tackle the general issue of cropping but it also makes an excellent point about seeing the image anew after it was captured.
There is no question that capturing the best image possible in the field should be the objective of every serious photographer. This is the starting point and this approach should never be questioned otherwise it will lead to visual laziness, slippage and mediocre seeing.
TAKE YOUR TIME AND DO YOUR BEST IN THE FIELD.
Having said that, reviewing an image on a computer opens a new world of possibilities for a creative photographer.
Upon returning to our desks and computers, we upload our imagery and begin the tedious and difficult operation of selecting and post-processing the chosen imagery. Based on my interaction with clients and on my own experience, this is a much more difficult task than many realize. I will write a separate article about the importance of selection and then presentation of your imagery to the wider audience. However, today I would like to focus on Jason’s question.
Looking at the initial colour image I can clearly see Jason’s idea of combining two layers of visuals: the scene on the street with chairs reflected in the window. It is an incredibly difficult visual technique to combine unrelated elements and craft a compelling photograph. We talked about this method quite extensively in our article “Combining (unrelated) Elements in Seeing” just a few weeks ago.
Of course, I don’t know the thinking process behind Jason’s image but the fact that he recognized this opportunity should be applauded. Notice that the chair legs offer a repeated pattern in contrast to the more chaotic street scene, which could provide a much-needed break or a welcome disruption. Another observation at this point would be that the legs are quite bright in comparison to the rest of the scene, allowing for quite drastic underexposure – something that should be considered with every image.
Now we have the image on our computer. I like the original but I agree with Jason that the image appears to be quite busy or even confusing. The next step, as I upload any image, would be to scrutinize the scene. I never look at the image as a final image – I look at it as a scene – the same way I would look at the scene in front of me on the street. This is an important distinction! By doing so, you are allowing your seeing to uncover new possibilities, if such exist within the image.
Jason did just that. He noticed the shape of a man sitting on the bench along with the legs of the reflected chair. His tight crop created a brand-new image. It is a much more powerful, cleaner image, which forces the viewer to explore and wander around the frame to find the meaning.
I also like the fact that Jason decided to convert this image to Black and White. Colour doesn’t play a role in this image and might even be a distraction. It is clearly a play on patterns and shapes (did you notice that the bench itself consists of horizontal lines?). The incomplete outline of the man within those lines evokes feelings of confusion or distress – in other words the image causes some sort of emotional reaction – a key point in photography!
I would love to hear what you think while looking at Jason’s image.
Coming back to the subject of cropping, it is important to look at any image not as a done-work but as a scene which you may decide to work on. I try to find other possibilities within the image, which often leads me to completely new visuals.
Recently during the San Francisco Workshop, Michael, one of the students, took a photo of a skateboarder in the park. Then, during the post-processing he cropped it quite aggressively and arrived at a totally new image – in fact one of the best from the entire workshop. Michael, if you read this, would you mind sharing this image with us – before and after! THANKS MICHAEL!
Further, on Jason’s question. Yes, cropping is fine! I know that we lose quality especially if our cropping is extreme (70% or more) but for me, strong imagery will always trump technical quality. In the past I printed images from extreme crops and sure, they may show some grain or imperfections but I embraced them and they often become part of the texture – a sort of signature.
I will continue with the subject of post-processing and presenting your work soon. This is something that is overlooked and often misunderstood.
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