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Maybe your photos are better than you think. Perhaps all you need to transform your images into keepers is to simply cut out the dead wood and get ruthless with the crop tool. While I’m not against getting your shot perfect ‘in camera’, I do believe that cropping like a boss during post-production can turn a ‘meh’ shot into a ‘whoa’ shot just by carefully placing those marching ants in Adobe Camera Raw and hitting ‘crop’.
Why limit yourself to a mediocre image when there’s a little hidden gem inside your average shot, waiting to be teased out like a gleaming pearl?
Here’s an example of a cropped shot with the full frame shot below it. During the shoot I was happy with the original composition (below), but after studying the shot at home I decided that the scene needed to be more intimate, so in I went with the scissors of brutality.
When your image has an obvious story, it’s often wise to cut out any non-essential space to ignite a more immediate reaction in your audience. By discarding all distractions, you’ll direct their attention to what matters most. With the image below, I wanted to portray the resilience of nature under the menacing specter of toxic pollution. I knew I had the shot but the story had much more impact after I’d cropped out all of the wasted space in my image. Ideally I would have used a longer lens to achieve the same result but all I was carrying at the time was a 24-105mm and there was no way I was going to let that stop me. Shoot, crop, done, breakfast.
You’ve doubtless heard grumpy old fossils whine on about why big megapixels are pointless unless you’re printing wall sized prints. I’m here to tell you that’s a load of old codswallop. Try cropping out a small section of a 16 megapixel image and let me know good it looks at the full size of your computer screen. Lacking in resolution, hmm? Well I guess it depends on the size of your crop, but chances are things are starting to look a little crusty if you’re not packing some heat in the megapixel department. Size, as they say, does matter.
Here’s another example of using my megapixels to get closer to my subject. As you can see from the full frame image below the crop, I made no attempt at composing a foreground because I knew I’d be cropping out everything but my main subject – the magic tree of Fairy Lake on Vancouver Island. You can even see a hideous vignette in the full frame shot caused by the polarizer rig. Crop, done, lunch.
If you can’t afford a big telephoto lens but have a good quality wide-angle lens and a decent megapixel count, it’s still worth taking that shot of the bird on the other side of the lake. You can crop it later and possibly come away with a keeper. Sometimes it’s not even the cost of long lenses that puts people off using them, it’s the chiropractors bills that come from dragging them around. That being said, a top notch telephoto lens creates a specific look and for serious wildlife shooters it’s a must-have lens. This isn’t an anti-telephoto article so don’t be leaving angry comments.
When you’re familiar with a location and you’ve shot there many times before, it’s easy to plan your compositions long in advance. But what if it’s your first time and you’re shooting under pressure? Sometimes you get lucky, but sometimes you won’t spot the perfect composition until you review your images back at home on a full size computer screen. That’s when cropping will give you that second chance at getting the perfect shot.
I’m always telling my students that you can learn a huge amount about composition simply by reviewing and editing your images. Try and find two or more new compositions that are hiding in plain site right there in your existing images. This simple process teaches you a lot about balance, symmetry, framing, leading lines and whatever other compositional elements are right there in your images. Spend enough time doing this and you’ll become a better photographer when you’re out shooting. When cropping, you can start by asking yourself a few essential questions:
By answering these five simple questions you’ll quickly identify the strongest parts of your image and transform them from stale, forgotten megabytes, into beautiful memories you can share with the world. I hope you found this article helpful and please, get cropping and then share your best cropped images with me, I’d love to see your results.