How to Crop Images - Digital Photography School

How to Crop Images

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We’ve talked previously on a number of occasions about composing digital photographs for maximum effect when taking your shots but even the best photographers will often get back to their computers to view their photos and find that their composition is not ideal for one reason or another including distracting background elements, framing mistakes, unbalanced images etc.

While the temptation might be to delete such images the beauty of shooting in the digital format is that editing images after shooting them is relatively quick and easy. Cropping is one option for fixing such problems. This is usually done in photo editing software (most cameras come with software that will enable this) but these days many cameras can also do it within the camera itself.

Cropping images give you a second chance to frame your images and can be used in some of the following ways:

Covering Framing Mistakes

One common problem that face digital photographers are shots that have one side of your subject very close to the edge of the frame, or even have it chopped off by the frame. This can leave the shot feeling quite cramped, incomplete or uneven. For example when taking a portrait and you slightly clip the ear of your subject.

While you can never really add to the photograph to put more space around your subject (or recover the ear you clipped), cropping the image even tighter can take the focus away from the clipped part of your subject and make the image quite dynamic.

Whilst the following shot isn’t quite the framing mistake mentioned above it is an illustration of poor framing (that big light colored floor). There would be many ways to crop the shot to get rid of the floor including the one below it.

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Finding Balance

Another problem that cropping images can help address is the unbalanced image. For example a shot where you attempted to put your subject in the dead centre of your shot but where it ended up being slightly off centre – or where you want to use the rule of thirds but when framing the shot forgot about the principle.

I’ll illustrate this below with a picture I took of a bee a few months back. While I was pleased to get the first shot I wanted to get in closer but also make the bee’s eye in a stronger position (using the rule of thirds). I also wanted to remove the second stem of lavender in the background.

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You’ll notice I also did a little other editing of the shot in terms of contrast and color balance but I think the cropping makes a definite impact upon the shot.

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Editing Distractions

There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve taken the ‘money shot’ and getting home to view your image to find that somewhere in the background of your image there is a distracting element that you’d not seen when framing your shot.

Cropping can solve this problem in some instances – particularly when the distraction is on the edges of your image. If it’s more central you might need to explore some other post editing technique. I illustrated this above with the bee shot in editing out the distracting lavender.

Finding New Formats

Sometimes the problem with an image is that the format you’ve chosen to shoot it in (ie how you’ve held the camera, vertically or horizontally) is just wrong for the image.

While you can retain the shape of your image with cropping you can also change it considerably moving it from a horizontal framing to a vertical one or the other way around.

Also in this way you can move into some non standard image sizes if it adds to your shot. For example sometimes cropping an image into a square can add impact or cropping the top and bottom of a horizontal shot into a panoramic one can have a dramatic impact also. Experiment with different shapes of images to see what works best.

I’ve illustrated this below with a shot that I took on a beach earlier in the year. The first image is un-cropped and while it’s a nice blue sky and the colors of the flag are nice the picture is a little empty. Below the first one I’ve added a few other options which might help make the shot a little stronger.

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Going Abstract

Quite often cropping is just a matter of trimming the edges of an image but being bold and tightly cropping images to focus in on different elements within an image can also result in some interesting and often abstract results.

In this way you can actually break down a larger image into numerous smaller ones.

Really the possibilities are endless:

  • take a group photo of friends and crop it down to one or two people
  • take a shot of a table set for a dinner and focus in on one of the dishes or an element of the table setting
  • take a shot of a garden and crop down to focus upon a plant or flower
  • take a street scene and focus in on a sign

Things to consider when cropping

  • duplicate your images first. It’s always good to keep an original that you can go back to later to find a different way to crop.
  • take your time when cropping. There are almost unlimited ways to crop an image and it’s worth trying a few of them before settling on one.
  • if you change the shape of your image this could make printing more difficult, especially if you’re going to a photo lab which generally only print in standard shapes and sizes.
  • cropping works best when you’re starting with a fairly large image. When you crop an image and then try to view it at the same size as it was before you cropped you’ll notice that the pixels are large. If you’re using small images keep this in mind or you’ll notice the quality of your images can decrease to an unusable level.
  • for this reason the ideal is to use cropping as a fine tuning of a well framed picture. With experience you’ll find your framing of images gets better and you’ll probably find yourself cropping drastically in post production less and less.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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