Cropping - Crop, Crop, Crop!
Cropping is one of the most important aspects of Photographic Composition.
There are three times to crop a picture: 1) In the camera 2) When printing the picture and 3) When framing the picture.
1) Generally, you should always get the best picture possible framed in the camera. But, it is not always possible to cut the crud out. So, generally, do the best job you can with in camera composition. Don't rely on cropping on the computer (or darkroom) if you can crop/compose it correctly in the camera. Fortunately, camera resolutions have gotten so high in the last couple of years (with many consumer cameras now at 12mp (12 million pixels), that you can crop a picture and still have sufficient resolution to print an 8x10. With older digital cameras, like a 4mp Canon A85, it is important to get the cropping right in the camera. With larger format cameras, like a 6mp Nikon D40, you have a better ability to crop because of the larger sensor and still get a good picture up to 8x10. Finally, take more than one picture with different composition if it is desirable to have both a tightly cropped and loosely cropped version of an image.
2) The 2nd time to crop is when you are print the picture. This is one of the neatest thing that was originally only possible if you printed your picture yourself in a darkroom. Only Pro Commercial labs would take a negative and crop to only a portion of the image. Today, with the digital darkroom (computer) and self operated Kiosks as places like Walgreen's, you are able to custom crop your images with ease. The process is to open the image and crop out by literally cutting out the unwanted portions of your image, then printing. Note: When editing your image, you should always "Save As" to a copy to preserve the original file/image.
3) The final opportunity to crop your image is when you are framing the picture. It is possible to cut your picture down to a different size or entirely different composition. IOW, you already have the image in your hand but you can still change composition by cutting it down.
Part of the need to crop comes from the discrepancy from image format to print format. Specifically, when you look through your view finder, you are seeing a 2:3 aspect ratio. This means that for every 2" inches of vertical rise, there is 3" of horizontal distance. There is nothing with this in itself. The problem becomes when you try to print an 8x10 which is a 4:5 aspect ration. In order to print an image from most digital cameras, you would need to enlarge to 8x12. Then the problem is that you will need to find a frame that is 8x12...and that becomes a problem because MOST frames are 8x10.
This is true for film and digital. Here is what it would look like to print an image full frame in the darkroom (i.e. allowing the negative edges to show).
And here is what it would look like when you raise the enlarger to 12":
The following images are from my online order site where customers place orders. Customers have the ability to crop images as they place their order. When I review the order, I also have the ability to check their cropping and/or make additional cropping of my own.
The need for cropping on this first image allowed for more frame room at the bottom so as to not cut off the dress. No image area was cut from the sides...the need for cropping was required due to the change from 2:3 to 4:5 aspect ratio. Additional cropping could have been done, but is not necessary.
While not a bad picture, the couple was a little to far to the left. As a 4x6 (which is also a 2:3 image) no cropping would really have been necessary. But when printed to 8x10, 2" are lost no matter what, and it put the couple off center...so the crop box was moved to the right.
Initial image with out the crop box being custom set:
Image with custom crop applied:
The following images were ordered as 4x6. While cropping was not required, I decided to crop out a little of each image to make the picture more interesting and/or appealing.
I left room under the image so as to preserve the distance he was off the floor.
In the next few examples, cropping was required.
On this first one, left is a 5x7 and the right is an 8x10 crop.
For the picture of just the girl where an 8x10 was ordered, a fairly significant crop had to be applied.
In this next screen shot you can see what happens if NO-CROP is applied for a 4:5 aspect print from a 2:3 aspect image.
In the next example, you can see how an optional crop helped improve the image by getting rid of a bystanders arm and excess space above the three guys.
In these next few crops, you can see how each image was cropped just a bit to improve the composition.
In the following example, you can see how even the rotation of the crop can be changed, allowing you to dramatically change the print from a vertical to a horizontal if desired say for a particular frame, etc.
In this picture, the full length is beautiful, but for 8x10 and 11x14, something has to be cut...so, I put the crop just barely above her head so that it fits just barely below the cross as well.