Do I crop my photos? That's a question I get from time to time and one that I‘m always surprised by. For me cropping is one of the most elemental tools for creating a photograph. I see it as just another tool in the process to make the best image I can.
I’m not sure where the idea of not cropping came from and why anyone would see not cropping an image as some sort of sacred aspect of photography. That’s like saying there is something holy about the aspect ratio of a camera, the problem is there are a number of different aspect ratios, depending on what camera you happen to be using. What’s it going to be 6x17, 6x12, square or something in between? What happens if the scene or subject you come across requires an aspect ratio different than what you happen to have with you.? Not cropping is giving more importance too the box than the image it contains.
I liken the no cropping mantra to someone saying they don’t process their photos. I hate to break it to them but all images are processed to one extent or another. If you shoot a digital camera the images are meant to be processed, whether it is a RAW file or a JPEG. The RAW file is meant to be processed, you start with all the information that was captured in a file then you must decide what information you want to keep when using a raw converter. Even if you shoot a JPEG the photo is being processed, it’s just being processed by the computer in the camera by the parameters you have set before taking the photo. Cropping is just another step in processing the image for the best possible photograph.
One of the first things I learned when starting my first job as a staff photographer for a newspaper, was how important cropping was to fine tuning an image. Things happen fast in journalism, so precise composition can at times be less a priority. Sometimes it’s not until you’ve got the image into your processing workflow that you have time to fine tune the composition to get the most out of that photo.
The great thing about working as a photographer in the publishing media of newspapers, was I could crop my photos too any aspect ratio that I felt the image would look best, and my editors would just work around what I gave them. In fact, they seemed to relish in the challenge of finding ways to layout a page with some pretty extreme vertical or strong panoramas for their pages. I’m sure not all photographers are afforded the same creative freedoms that I was given, it was an advantage to both myself and the editors, they won a fair amount of page design awards. I imagine if we would have stuck with everything being the 3:2 aspect ratio of our 35mm cameras, that wouldn’t have been the case.
Why wouldn’t you crop an image? The answer is very simple, the photo doesn’t need it, it was composed and fit well with in the cameras aspect ratio, that happens a lot in my photography but there are times when the box I’m trying to fit the image is just not working for the subject. A panorama, a square and everything in between maybe needed.
Is there a downside to cropping? When starting out in photography it didn’t take long to figure out that cropping to much would degrade my final photo, cropping to much simply reduces the information you have to work with and how much image degradation varies widely depending on camera format, film size or pixel count you are starting with.
So yes, I crop my photos when it is needed, and you should too.
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