Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Crop

Do you crop your photos or leave them as they came out of the camera?  If you crop, do you use the standard crop sizes such as 8x10, 5x7 or 11x17?

Photos out of my camera come out with a 2x3 ratio, meaning the photos are 1 1/2 times as wide as they are tall.  They can be printed uncropped 2x3, 4x6, 8x12, 20x30, etc.  Often they look fine just the way they were composed and don't need to be cropped.  But other times, they could be improved with a little creative cropping.

Here's one I took this weekend when hiking up the balds of the Roan Highlands from Carver's Gap.

This is uncropped just as it was composed and shot.  It is in a landscape orientation, but is that the best way to present it?   The trees dominate the image giving it a vertical feel.  The trees sticking out of the snow in the back hint at a horizontal line tilting down on the right side.  I think there are multiple options here to explore.

What if it was in a portrait format?  This first 8x10 crop simplifies the image by removing many of the trees and focuses the viewer on the clear area leading to the lighter section in the center of the top half.  Including the snow at the bottom makes it feel like the trees are further away.  This crop emphasizes the vertical trees.  Vertical lines in a composition symbolize strength and stability.
You don't see square crops very often because they can tend to feel static and uninteresting.  However, in the second version of the same image, the square crop has been used to remove distracting elements and focus attention to the lighter point in the back of the trees.  Removing the snow at the bottom and the tree on the right makes the viewer feel like they are in the scene and gives it depth.  Almost feels like I can touch that tree on the right.

The third option is a wide crop using a 1x2 aspect ratio, meaning it is twice as wide as tall.  A horizontal image is more like what we naturally see with our eyes. In this version you see more of the horizontal line across the background made by the trees and snow.   Horizontal lines are peaceful and tranquil, which seems to be appropriate for this peaceful snowy scene.

Composing a horizontal or landscape image with repeating vertical lines can give a sense that the scene can't be contained and the repeating lines continue to the left and right.   In the image below I framed the image with a tree trunk on either side, which contains it and the composition loses that infinite feel, but they do give a sense of depth to the image.  A good title for this one might be "Lost in The Woods" because it feels like trees are all around.  There is no one element in the image that jumps out and says "look at me", but my eyes want to explore the path through the trees on the left side.

Should you crop using the standard ratios found in Lightroom and other photo editing tools?   It might be easier to get a standard size printed and it will be easier to find a ready made frame for a standard size print.  However, I have come to realize it's more important to crop right than to fit within a limited number of print sizes.  There are companies out there that will print in almost any dimension.   Places like American Frame will custom build a frame for you at a reasonable price.  If you only going to display the image on a website, then there is no reason to restrict the crop at all.  Crop to any ratio you think makes a better composition.

I like some of these better than others.  You may not agree with what I like or may not like any of them.  There is really no right way to compose an image.  Don't let others opinions limit your creativity.

One last point about cropping is you should always try to get the composition as close to what you want when you take it and not rely on cropping later.  You may find you don't have sufficient resolution to crop a horizontal image into a vertical.

Both of the images used here were taken while hiking up the balds of the Roan Highlands from Carver's Gap on Saturday.  It was snowing and I was in the clouds all morning.  Not great conditions for the grand landscape vista shots (I couldn't tell the mountains from the sky) but the low contrast conditions were great for these in the woods shots.

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