Cropping

May 21, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Cropping images to our linking can be subjective. There is the famous rule of thirds that many people follow. But even following a well established guide does not always tell you how tight or wide to crop. First let's talk about cropping tools that you may find helpful. Adobe Photoshop, like all other image editing software, offers a cropping tool. But did you know that while you are in this tool you can ask Photoshop to overlay further cropping tool aids? Press "o" (the letter, not the number) while in the cropping tool and the cropping overlay appears. Press "o" again and it changes to another overlay. Keep pressing "o" to cycle through various options. It has a grid, the rule of thirds, and many more. Here are three examples:

The last two examples clearly pays no attention to the overlay guides as I just wanted you to see some of the overlay options. Look at the first example again. What if your subject is in the top right corner instead of the bottom left corner. Cycle through the options by pressing the "o" key until you find the overlay that you desire. Now press Shift and "o" to rotate the overlay. Once again, you can repeatedly press Shift and "o" to cycle through all the rotation options. With the overlay in place you can now crop as usual.

          But how tightly or loosely should we crop? In this image I am as close as the bird will allow my without flying off. My lens is maxed out at 600mm. But the bird is still too small in the frame. This image needs to be cropped. Let's start with the uncropped image and experiment with various crop options. We will stay with horizontal crops at first.

So this is the full frame. We want to crop the image because of multiple reasons. The out of focus tree in the bottom right bothers me, so I want to eliminate it. The bright windows of my neighbor's home in the top right of the image also needs to go. Lastly, the size of the bird in the frame needs to increase. Let's crop in a bit and see how it looks:

It looks a bit better. Some of the distracting out of focus tree in the foreground in the bottom right has been removed and the bright window in the top right corner is also gone. But this crop is lousy as we still have part of the out of focus tree on the bottom right as well as the window on the top. Let's crop even more to see if that resolved the issue:

All objectionable parts of the image have now been pruned. But is this the best crop we can get from this image? Let's zoom in a bit more to see how that looks:

Although the eye contact the bird is making with the viewer is now nicely visible and we can see the beautiful detail of the feathers the crop seems a bit too tight. The bird seems cramped and has no room to breathe or to live. How is this poor bird ever going to open it's wings? Personally, I like to see a bit more room. I am not a big fan of animal portraits (unless something special is going on or the image is really tight on the face). There is something to be said to see the surroundings, how and where the bird lives.

          Some images also lend themselves to vertical crops. Let's start, once again, with the tight crop and move out. Which of the following images do you find more pleasing as you consider how they are cropped?

What does your selection teach you about cropping? How can cropping be used from a composition stand point? Yes, we should always crop in camera. That is the best way to photograph and it gives you the highest resolution in a single shot. In landscape photography we typically do. But life does not always agree to let us work with what is ideal. Sometimes we just cannot get into the right position to crop the way we would like to. Cliffs may prevent us from moving forward. Thorn bushes may poke us. Slippery rocks may threaten us. And in the case of wildlife photography, cropping is just part of life. I just don't have a longer than 600mm lens. I don't own a 1.4 or 2x converter (and there are downsides to them). Even if we can get closer, sometimes we should not as that can disturb breeding animals or it may be dangerous. The only option is to crop.

          Cropping does offer compositional advantages too. It is not possible to hand hold a long lens, to focus on the bird, AND watch and control the foliage on the edges of the frame. Even small camera movements make a huge difference as to what is included or excluded in the image. Having space around the bird allows us to place our crop strategically and carefully to include or exclude things on the edges of our frame. This may sound trivial, but it makes a difference. Look, for example, at the last three images. Look at the foliage in the top right corner. Does that top right corner not look the best, neat and clean in the last image compared to the other images? You cannot shoot this precisely with a long lens, hand held. But cropping helps and it certainly improved the composition in the last crop's case.

          Even though the bird is smaller in the last image, to me, I like this crop the best. The bird still stands out while it has a bit of room to breathe and live. Review all these images in today's blog to see what a massive difference cropping makes to an image. What is your style when it comes to cropping? Do you crop tightly or do you also, like me, prefer to see a bit more space around wildlife?


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