Second Chances – The Good Crop

The editing process is always on. From the moment we head out with our camera it starts. I’m looking for things visual, scanning the world and moving on past the things I don’t want to photograph.

In some ways the act of shooting is most concerned with editing out what we don’t want in the frame. With slower moving subject matter like landscape and nature work, I often  start with a subject that interests me–one that has visual potential and  then I move in and around—scanning the entire frame slowly excluding distracting elements, shooting as I go until I reach a final composition. I try not to edit in the field because firstly, it’s hard to make important decisions based on the image on the small review screen, as resolute as it is; and second: I often find that images I thought were the best were not and others I didn’t even notice end up in the final selects.
I think cropping is just fine but in recent years I’ve started to crop more in-camera,  paying closer attention to the viewfinder image and enjoying the challenge of living within the shape of the frame. I also like the consistency of images all the same dimensions and shape, particularly when hanging a series of photographs on a wall or when displaying a body of work on my website.

This is why when I do crop, I keep the master aspect ratio to keep things consistent. So if an image would be more balanced as a square rather than in 3:2 format, I compromise and keep the rectangle.

I’m a believer in second chances and that’s what cropping provides. There’s no question that more megapixels means you can make larger prints with greater resolution. But for me, more resolution means greater possibility. I have found that with my D810, 36 megapixels offers me the ability to move in with the crop tool and take even a small portion of the frame and blow it up with sufficient usable resolution to strengthen an otherwise tossed image.

Cropping is the second chance that makes me a better photographer. I learn from my post-processing experience and the more I crop, the more these lessons learned fast-track me physically closer to my ideal composition when I’m in the field. This ultimately gets infused into my shooting process and the need for cropping lessens. This is why I think cropping can make you a better photographer and that more megapixels is a big help with this. Cropping like most things in photography is personal. Not everyone will agree with your crop but you have to make yourself happy and then listen to the criticism to see if it changes your mind. You are responsible for everything in the frame. If you can squeeze a stronger composition by cropping then I say do it.

Photography is a compromise. You can’t get it all in one frame but you do want to make the communication of what your saying as strong as possible.

This is one of my favorite shots, taken in a rainstorm in Lesotho. I was driving when I came upon the scene. It was shot with a 12 megapixel D2X camera, which was a great camera in it’s time but nowhere near the resolution and high-ISO capability of current cameras.

I wished I had a different lens on the camera when I braked and  jumped out of the car into the pouring rain and shot this image. But cropping let me maximize what I loved about the scene.

The Raw Version does not look like much but through careful cropping I was able to salvage one of my favorite images.

Before I release an image into the world, I want to make it as strong as possible. I kept the same aspect ratio and though I pushed the limits of resolution with the 12 megapixel file, by keeping the ISO down I was able to make a beautiful 17×22 print that looked great. The picture was the one I wanted to take in camera but I was able to match my vision of the scene with the reality of the original by cropping.

The acid test I use to check my crop is to look at the cropped out areas and ask myself, “is there any important information that is being taken away that is not in the cropped version?”

If the answer is no, then great. If the answer is yes then I weigh the pros and cons of cropping the image with or without that layer of information included or excluded.

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  1. says: Desirée

    I found you through a YouTube lecture which had me riveted. I find myself living between the world of modern photography for families and classical photography. A few years ago my Dad wanted to go to the Glenbow museum (Calgary) to view the Karsh exhibit. That experience forever changed the way I photograph people. However, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting my own pet project so that I can pursue classical photography. Thanks to your video, I feel confident enough to start. It really is hard to ask people if you can photograph them, but then I guess the alternative it never knowing what could have been. Love your work.

    1. says: Steve Simon

      You are right about that…do it, don’t be discouraged by the odd bad experience and great things will happen!