To crop or not to crop

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the subject of cropping photos and while there are some photographers that subscribe to the unwritten rule that you should never have to crop a photo because a good photographer always gets the image right in the camera – I am definitely not one of those photographers! Yes I crop my photos and yes I understand the caveats that cropping comes with when it comes to printing images and I’m okay with that. I treat cropping a photo as just another editing tool that I have available to me to make the final image that I present the best that it can be. Here’s a few examples of using cropping to improve the final image…

I shot this great blue heron image in my canoe. I had the camera pointed to the right shooting something else when my husband called out that a heron was coming in from the left. I swung the camera around, focused and fired off a few shots. I figured that the resulting image was going to be blurry but I was pleased when I got back to my computer, zoomed in and saw the heron was nice and sharp.

But the problem is that it’s in the wrong place in the frame. I prefer to have more space in front of the bird rather than behind and it’s a little lost against all that white sky (it was a very cloudy overcast day) so I decided to change the composition by cropping the image.

Great Blue Heron – cropped/edited image ISO100 1/1000 f/6.3

Yea I know, a pretty severe crop right? But the final image is way better than the original. Now because I cropped so much of the sky out, printing this at 16″ x 20″ probably won’t be an option and I’m okay with that. It’ll look just as nice as an 11″x 14″ print and it looks great viewed on screen.

Here’s another example:

This image was also taken from my canoe. I saw this mute swan swimming around with her baby on her back but I didn’t want to get too close so I shot from a pretty good distance even for my 600mm lens.

Mute Swan original unedited image ISO500 1/1000 f/6.3

I was thrilled when the baby popped his head up for a second and was lucky to get this shot but the resulting composition is just not pleasing to my eye. So I cropped it to make it better.

Mute Swan cropped/edited image ISO500 1/1000 f/6.3

Cropping off a bit from each side improves the overall composition and helps draw your eye to the baby nestled on her back. I think it works much better this way than in the original shot.

Here’s one more example:

Another cloudy overcast day resulted in a nice image of this little yellow warbler against a lot of white sky. The yellow warbler is a very small bird so they don’t take up a lot of room in the frame and I think in this case it looks lost against all that white background.

Yellow Warbler original unedited image ISO100 1/600 f/6.3

So I cropped the image just slightly:

Yellow Warbler edited/cropped image ISO100 1/600 f/6.3

Taking just a little bit off the top and the left edge puts more of the focus on the bird and helps the overall composition of the image.

So here’s my take on cropping your photos – go right ahead and do it but keep these tips in mind:

1: Cropping an image is going to highlight any out of focus, noisy or blurry elements so make sure that you are working with an image that is nice and sharp.

2: For best results shoot in RAW or if you have to shoot in .jpg then make sure you are shooting in the largest file format that you can. (read your camera manual!)

3: Cropping is going to change the size of your image so keep that in mind if you are going to want to print it.

You can view (and purchase) the images in this post here on my website.

3 comments

  1. I agree – I almost always have to crop my bird shots. They just don’t sit still and getting the shot is more important to me that not having to crop.

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  2. I agree with Denise and you Sue. I crop if the final product is an improved picture. Birds and other live creatures are often on the move and they don’t pose for us. Just don’t tell Nick and we will be OK.

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  3. Well, if I have reached the limits of my gear and there is no other alternative and I want the shot, then I have cropped. I plan for cropping in 4 scenarios: subject is just too far away and I still want the shot and have no other way of getting closer,; in sports where the athlete(s) May jump out of the frame I leave a little room which may end up in a crop; when panning to make sure I got the whole subject in similar to sports; and lastly when I plan for correcting perspective distortion which I can’t fix in camera and have to rely on post processing-for example tall buildings. My objective 100% of the time is to get the image right in the camera – but sometimes in some types of photography like birds, that is much more difficult. That means though that as photographers we continue to strive for better images in camera by upgrading our gear and our skills to get as close to that goal as possible. Cropping is a “tool” of last resort.

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