5 Reasons Why Your Cropping is Letting Down Your Photos


A great photo is a combination of factors that work together to produce a great final image. The subject, lighting, composition, focus, and timing are all key to capturing a great image. However, one aspect that is often overlooked is how the image is cropped, as this can have a huge impact on the final photo.

Here are five reasons why the way that you crop your images could be letting down the final result.

Not following The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is nothing new, and should be viewed as a good starting point for a pleasing composition. The idea is that when you take a photo, you divide your viewfinder by two vertical lines, and two horizontal lines, then try to place a point of interest on, or near, the intersection of the lines. For example, in a landscape photograph this might be a boat on a lake.

However, if this isn’t how you shot the photo, you can crop your image to follow the Rule of Thirds. Inside Lightroom, if you click on the Crop Overlay button (or R) it will allow you to crop the image (you can also see an overlay of the thirds, hit the O key to cycle through the various overlays to find the right one if it’s not showing).

But remember, rules are there to be broken, and sometimes the composition might work better without following the Rule of Thirds, so try experimenting with your cropping to see what works best.

In this version t the woman isn't near one of the intersections and as a result looks lost in the photograph.

In this version the woman isn’t near one of the intersections of the third lines, and as a result looks lost in the photograph.

With a bit of cropping the woman is now near one of the intersections and as a result has more balance in the image.

With a bit of cropping the woman is now near one of the intersections, and as a result there is more balance in the image.

No clear point of interest

Everyone can be guilty of trying to cram too much into their photos, but sometimes it’s better to crop an image to remove distractions, that will ultimately pull the viewers eyes away from the main point of interest. When looking at a photo, ask yourself, “What is the single message that I want the viewer to take away from the photo?” Then crop your photograph so that the focus is purely on that message, and nothing else.

Man selling buttons in a market by the side of the road in Bangkok.

Man selling buttons in a market by the side of the road in Bangkok. There is too much going around on the edges that distract from the main point of interest here.

By cropping in we remove the distractions and keep the focus of the man.

By cropping in, I remove the distractions and keep the focus on the man.

Not showing enough

While sometimes cropping in to a photo is great for isolating the point of interest, sometimes it is better to show more, so that the image can have more context, and tell a better story. This is especially true of landscape photos, or environmental portraits, where seeing the surroundings of a person or object can be imperative to the composition. Remember though, that when you are showing more of the scene, still think about the Rule of Thirds, and consider that your photo should still have a clear message.

Not showing enough of the surrounding.

Not showing enough of the surroundings.

By having a wider crop we give the photo more context.

By having a wider crop, the photo has more context.

It’s too safe

One of the great things about the digital age of photography is that you can experiment on your photos in post-production as much as possible. So, don’t be afraid to play around with the way you crop your images. You may find that a crop you are not usually accustomed to, like panoramic or square, works wonders for a photograph.

This is the original crop from the camera.

This is the original crop from the camera.

But the majority of the foreground and sky in not interesting so by cropping in it give the image much more interest.

The majority of the foreground and sky is not interesting, so by cropping to a panoramic it makes the image much tighter, and more focused on the point of interest.

Not thinking about usage

If you are planning on selling your images, it is imperative to think about where they might be used. If you put your point of interest in the middle of the image, the photograph won’t be used as a double page spread in a magazine, as the point of interest will be in what is called the gutter. If you don’t allow enough space around a vertical photograph, it may not work as a cover image. You also need to think about how they might look on the stock agency website as a thumbnail, and if it will make an impression. That’s why it is imperative to crop your images while thinking about the end usage.

By placing the Blue Mosque on the left hand side of the composition it makes this shot easier to use as double page spreads.

By placing the Blue Mosque on the left hand side of the composition it makes this shot easier to use in magazines where copy might be needed.

Cropping your images is one of the simple ways of improving a photograph, and the great thing is that if it doesn’t work, you can simply revert the image to how it was before and try something else. So give it a go and experiment with the cropping of your images, you may be surprised with the results.

Do you have any other tips and advice for cropping your images? Share them below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty and Axiom Photographic and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, Lonely Planet, American Express, and many others. To keep up to date with his latest news follow him on his Facebook page

  • Michal Rosa

    So you basically don’t understand the difference between “cropping” and “composition”. Please consult the nearest dictionary.

  • phil200

    A very good summary and the example photos make each point clearer to understand.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Glad you found it useful Phil.

  • DD

    Consistently unpleasant.

  • George Citizen

    Surprisingly, the online Merriman-Webster dictionary does not define “crop” in a photographic sense. The term’s not lost on Adobe however. They were running an ad for the Creative Cloud when I was looking up the word “crop”! I thought that was funny.

    For me, “composition” is the basic design of lighting, DOF, selected juxtaposition of objects and angle of view within the frame. It’s what your camera lens sees. “Crop” is the fine tuning you do after you’ve settled on the overall composition. If your overall composition is wrong, no amount of cropping will fix it! For example, if the picture of the squatting man had shallow depth of field such that the terrain in the background was blurry, no amount of crop would render the picture on the right.

    Since you’re probably disagreeing with me any way, I’ll throw this out there to muddy the water even more. Again using the the squatting man photo. If I viewed the scene on the right with my zoom set to a wider angle shot and was unhappy, I may be able to “crop” the view by zooming in to the scene to get that on the left. However at this point since the pic on the left is what my lens is actually seeing and that’s the stuff I decided to have in my picture, I would refer to it as “composing” the shot, not “cropping” it, but I don’t think this is the situation the author had in mind when writing the article. I read the article from the stand point of post-processing a shot you have already taken.

  • Lev Bass

    I would tweak the rule of thirds section. Instead of saying “Follow the rule of thirds and break it when necessary” why not say “Pay attention to the balance in the image”? The caption under the edited photo mentions balance – this is the key, not a specific rule (rule of thirds, symmetry, etc).

  • Michal Rosa

    Truth is rarely pleasant.

  • DD

    Rarely? That’s an exaggeration. Most well-adjusted people, even horrible people, are able to be pleasant some of the time. You are not. You are just a horror of a person.

  • Pete Mueller

    Agreed. Total Maggot.

  • Tim Lowe

    Here’s an idea. Think first. Compose with your feet (or your zoom if you’re so lucky). And DON’T crop.

  • Superheterodyne

    It seems pretty obvious to me that the author was referring to PP when discussing cropping. He even mentioned taking a wider AOV to make it possible to choose a different crop later. Read the opening 2 paragraphs.

  • J Public

    Another neat little article, thank you. It has helped me clear up in my head the previous tension I had between “compose in camera”, which a lot of people advocate and which seems like common sense, and the fact that I use the crop tool on almost every picture in post-processing. Just because I crop does not mean that I did not also compose in camera. You have helped me realise that it is “both”, not “either/or”. Sorry you have had some aggro from commentators that may need a bit more convincing.

  • Kav Dadfar

    Glad you liked it. No worries about agro, in this industry you have to develop a thick skin and this is the thing I love about photography – it’s so subjective. I do advocate getting the photo as close to the final result when taking the shot as possible as you save yourself hours of post production (and I prefer to be out there taking photos rather than sitting in front of the computer). But sometimes, it can’t be helped as you might be capturing fleeting moments that don’t present themselves again. Or you might prefer a more extreme crop such as pano. All the best

  • Leyden

    George, agreed, composition is mainly in the camera, crop is mainly PP.

  • RickM

    Thanks very much for this help! It’s a great reference for those Which-one-works-best moments. Believe it or not, I learned some of my most valuable cropping lessons when using the Control + (PC) steps to get in tight for sharpening or dodge/burn, and suddenly, “Wow! That looks much better than my original!”

  • Kav Dadfar

    No worries Rick. Please you enjoyed the article. All the best.

  • Claude B.

    Street pictures is my go. Sometimes situations happend fast without any compositions to make It a perfect shot. But in a shot, sometimes I found four excellent pictures to be cropped, so, I did ré cropped four excellent pictures. The main picture was done at 100 ISO, so, no lost of quality on those four.

  • Darryl Lora

    Thanks Dav for the great tips. I always look forward to your tips on DPS.

  • dabhand

    Lev, I agree in general but as the initial topic was aimed at beginners to landscape photography I think it there is a need for an easy to understand ‘rule’ – paradoxically, I would like to see ‘rule of thirds’ eradicated from photographers vocabulary, it along with golden & blue hours and milky water is responsible for some of the most artificially and construed images – sure each and every one of them can give interesting results, but man are they overworked.

  • amazing clicks really loved it thank you very much for shairing this great pictures

  • John

    There isn’t always the choice. I’ve often photographed birds in flight and of course they’re not going to stay still for me to get the rule of thirds exactly right.

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