This week’s challenge is from Patti Moed. She asks us to focus on one of the basic “first steps” in bringing out the best in an image. She writes, “This week’s challenge is a chance to explore a photo editing technique and the benefits of cropping the shot. Show us how cropping helped to improve an image and create a desired effect. Include the shot “before” and “after” so we can see the difference.” You can read her entire challenge post here.
Of course, that first step might also end up being a later step as you evaluate the close-to-final image and discover a different crop might bring out a different look that might even change the photo’s emotional appeal.
As many of you know, the challenge is posted each week on Saturday, but I don’t get my response published until Thursday each week because of my other weekly posts happening on Sunday and Tuesday. I am writing this on Wednesday, even though I had my post all but completed over the weekend and scheduled for its Thursday morning automatic post. This introductory parenthetical comment is being added because I have really enjoyed the submissions by other challenge participants and their take on cropping. Probably the biggest take-away was the reminder from several others about the power of in-camera cropping. They have reminded me that taking a few extra shots at different distances gives you the power of cropping without the loss of pixels (and resolution) you might need for printing an image. Going forward, I will try to remember to crop in-camera before I trip the shutter and take more images with in-camera cropping in mind. Now back to what I wrote over the weekend.
There are several reasons one might crop an image. Six of them are delineated here. It turns out that I used two of those reasons in my opening photo. The six items listed in the article are:
Improve overall composition.
Focus on the main subject.
Remove distracting elements.
“Zoom in” on a subject.
Change the orientation.
Change the aspect ratio.
The original image of this mail Iguana was tilted and the subject was quite far away. The first thing I did in Lightroom was to rotate the photo to make the ground level. That fixed a technical error on my part. I could have opted for simply cropping to focus on the subject, but chose instead to “Zoom in” and create a portrait of sorts.
The one caveat about using “Zoom in” is that when you crop an image, you remove pixels making it a lower resolution image. The original image captured on my Nikon D500 was a bit over 5500 x 3700 pixels. The crop brought the number of pixels down to about 1500 x 1000. For my purposes, an image featured in social media, that’s fine. Most of my images are reduced to 1024 pixels on the long edge anyway. That’s good enough for all but the highest of quality monitors (as long as you don’t “zoom in” further for a closer look.)
The image of Buckhorn cactus flowers was cropped for two reasons as well. Captured on my cellphone, the original photo was in portrait format leaving lots of extraneous plant above and below the image. That also allowed me to change the aspect ratio from the camera’s normal rectangular format to a 1:1 format. The original image is 4000 x 3000 pixels, and the crop only dropped off about 500 pixels on the horizontal plane making it about 2500 x 2500 roughly. That’s plenty enough pixels to print on a canvas of some size, especially since the natural “grain” of a canvas is accepting of slightly lower pixel counts. The final version of this image may just end up on a canvas.
Action shots create a need for cropping in many cases. When things are moving fast, if you try to zoom in and “crop in-camera”, you might just miss the action. In fact, I almost always try to add a little “cropping room” even on landscape images to allow extra flexibility to focus on the subject in an attractive manner.
The barrel rider is one of my favorite black-and-white conversions. The only thing that could make the image better is if I could have shot it with a lens that would have given me a wider lens opening to allow the background to blur. I’ve experimented with masking and other tools to remove the background distraction to some success, but not enough to make any of those experiments an improvement. I’ve got some newer tools and this post has made me consider revisiting this image to see if I can blur the background to improve it.
Here’s another reason to crop… for a special effect. These two images were cropped, left and right, from a single image of a classic 1950’s era Buick. The reason for the weird crops: I wanted the two images to frame a window that needed to have something on the bare walls. Other tweaks to make this image work included masking to lower exposure in the extraneous background and convert the background to black-and-white to remove a distraction of that colorful blue car on the right.
This image features the resulting prints mounted in cheap poster frames. For more details on how I put together this campy photo art, check out my blog post here.