Tag Archives: Crop factor

The Power of Cropping

A 2.35:1 image panned and scanned to 1.33:1. N...

A 2.35:1 image panned and scanned to 1.33:1. Nearly half of the original image has been cropped. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in school we were still developing film and making prints with an enlarger. Those were wonderful days and I learned a lot about the art of photography that has been beneficial in the digital age. Not so much that I would suggest others go back and learn film before venturing into digital photography, but there are times when those around me have a hard time grasping concepts that were made apparent in the days of dark rooms and strong smelling chemicals.

One of the things I find a lot of new photographers struggle with is cropping. They seem to think there is something sacred about the format their images were created in and are resistant to making any changes. In one of my first photography classes, the teacher picked up a couple of cropping ‘L’s’, two L shaped pieces of cardboard that you could place on top of a print and move around to show various crops. He would go through image after image showing how each could have been improved with a bit of cropping.

The astonishing thing was not simply that they improved but how dramatically they improved. Often someone would put up a print that looked plain and unexciting and the teacher would show how with a quick crop the image would suddenly jump to life. Soon we all had our own cropping ‘L’s’ and we were using them on all of our images before we turned them in. However, there was still an important lesson to be learned.

After using the ‘L’s’ for a while, I noticed that when I was taking pictures I would mentally use them in the viewfinder of my camera to see how I would crop the image when I got it back to the lab. It occurred to me that rather then waiting until then it was possible to crop right in the camera, to move around until most of the superfluous stuff had been eliminated. After all, this is one of the keys to great photography, to rid the image of everything that isn’t absolutely essential. Yet I never would have learned this lesson if I hadn’t first had the practice with hands-on cropping.

These days, cropping is quite easily done with your image manipulation software, so I suggest using this tool a lot until you really master the art of removing the unnecessary. There is real power in cropping, but it is a skill that takes some practice. Try cropping in various ways until you find one that really works. Do worry that a crop won’t fit the average frame, you aren’t really trying to make average images, are you? Instead, look for the drama and power that can be created with a bit of cropping.

One of the challenges will happen when you find that there are two very different ways to crop an image, both equally compelling in spite of being very different. What remains will be a question of the feeling or message each image provokes. You will have reached a high level of your artistic development when you can answer these questions intelligently.

So, whatever you do, ignore the fact that your sensor makes perfect 4:3 or 16:9 images. That isn’t nearly as important as creating beautiful, compelling images that evoke emotions from your viewers. How much better to create a wide panorama out of a landscape shot if that is what the image calls for. It’s a simple tool, but you will be amazed at the results if you learn to use it effectively.


5 things you can do to improve your pictures


For most of us, we are mesmerized with our new cameras and the amazing pictures they take… for a while. Then, as we compare them to the works of others, we find that they are somehow lacking and we struggle to find the magic that makes an image truly great. Professionals have talent, great equipment and years of experience on their side, so you are not likely to equal their work without the same, but you can improve your images dramatically and give them a run for their money if you will do the following:





perspectives, not truth

perspectives, not truth (Photo credit: alexdecarvalho)

Change your position. 99.99% of all amateur photos are taken at eye level, which means that if you will simply choose a slightly different angle from which to take your shot you can add a great deal of interest to your images. Try shooting from ground level, from the top of a ladder or any other perch you can find. John Moran, a professional photographer and a favorite in the Central Florida area, wanted to get an image of rowers sculling across a local lake. To get the shot he wanted, he mounted a ladder onto the launch that followed the rowers. It was a risky place to stand, but the shot he got was well worth the effort.







English: Frame from public domain trailer for ...




Frame your image with meaningful props. You would be amazed at how much a simple image can be improved with something as simple as a branch that hangs down from above or equipment or almost anything that gives some perspective, and some clues as to the environment in which you are shooting. I had a friend in college who figured out a way to place a soda can on the front of his lens so he was shooting through the pop-top hole. It made for some interesting shots.
















Seal Photobomb




Pay attention to your backgrounds. Few things will improve your images more than careful attention to what is behind your subject. As a photographer, you are responsible for everything that makes its way into your image, yet many people concentrate so much on the their subject that they lose sight of the rest of the image. (For some humorous examples of this, look up “photobomb” into your favorite search engine.) Train yourself to look in all four corners of the frame before snapping the shutter and look for a shooting angle that will allow you to have a simplified background. The improvement will be well worth the effort.









Orange lily close up cropped, with ant



Don’t be afraid to cut. Not everything you shoot will fit neatly into your camera’s frame, so as a result you will have unneeded space at the top, bottom or sides. Use your favorite photo software to clip these parts off. When I was in college we would use two cardboard “L’s” laid across our images to experiment with different crops. It was amazing to see how a rather mediocre image could be transformed into something impressive with some judicious cropping, yet many people resist the urge to clip. Don’t be that way; experiment with different crops and see if you don’t find one you like better than the original.






film night | self portrait

Take lots of pictures. It used to be that by the time you bought a roll of film and developed it, you had a substantial investment in your images, but modern cameras allow us to shot hundreds of images for a relatively small investment. This is a great advantage for beginners and pros alike because it allows us the luxury of trying many different things to get the best image possible. Consider this an investment in your art because those who work hard to improve their images by doing lots of experimentation are the ones whose skills advance the fastest.




And there you have it, 5 things you can begin right now to improve your images and they won’t cost you a dime. So, before you invest a big wad of money in a new lens, flash or meter, give these a try and see how far they will get you. They truly have the potential to improve your dramatically while you wait for that new lens to come in.




%d bloggers like this: