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Cropping, or removing certain portions of a photograph, has been around since the beginning of photography. In the digital photography age it is easier than ever to use this technique to bring about stellar results from your photographs. Before you discard that photograph you think of as boring or uninteresting, try a few of the suggestions in this article and see if you can pull something out that wasn’t there before and turn that throw-away photograph into a frame worthy print.
Cropping is fairly easy with most modern photo software. In this article I will be using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to demonstrate principles and techniques. While the specifics will be different from program to program, the basics are the same for most. Most programs will let you select a cropping tool and then either click and drag a freeform box around your subject or present you with clickable corners which can be moved about to gain the crop you are looking for. Clicking and dragging is the essence of modern cropping on the computer and is very easy to learn, while still being a powerful tool to help improve your photographs.
If you have not already done so, take a look at our rule of thirds entry for some information on the Rule of Thirds. It is a basic concept which helps make for aesthetically pleasing photographs and is a good place to start when considering cropping. With that said, it’s even better to apply the Rule of Thirds when taking the photograph instead of relying solely on the post-production work to give you a better photograph. However, a large portion of the time the photographs we take can use a little and that’s where these cropping techniques will come in handy.
With this first photograph as an example, there is far too much sky showing in what otherwise would be a pleasing mountain scene in the Himalayas. To improve this photograph I select one of the preset crop ratios; in this case 8×10.
When selecting preset ratios you are essentially telling the program what size of paper you will be printing to. This is important to know as 4×6, 5×7 and 8×10, the most popular sizes of prints, all have different ratios. If you do not crop the image for the specific size of paper it will be printed on, you risk having the photolab crop off parts of your picture and the results may not be what you desire.
In this example I have moved the crop box around just the mountain and foreground hillsides.
I kept the mountain in the top third of the image (note the helpful Rule of Thirds guide lines Lightroom overlays on the photograph) while placing the small home just about on the lower third line. After accepting the changes, the program presents the final image which has far more pleasing proportions than its predecessor.
This is a very simple and quick crop and I now know I will receive nearly this exact photograph when printed at 8×10.
Another option for a crop is to take that normal picture and turn it into a wide panorama. This technique has been very successful for one photograph in particular my wife, Kim, shot on her first trip to Nepal. She took a picture of a row of prayer wheels as they sat outside a temple. This picture really didn’t bring out the wheels themselves and had a lot of distraction as you can see.
To improve this image I decided to crop out everything else and just leave the prayer wheels. While this seemed a bit unconventional at the time the resulting image was our top seller last year.
Most panorama prints come in one of two size; 6″x18″ or 12″x36″. Math tells us the ratio is the same in both so we’ll set Lightroom to use this ratio, ensuring we can get our prints made in a standard size. A couple of clicks of the cropping tool allow me to enter in the ratio I desire if it is not standard. I enter a 1:3 ratio (actual inches/mm or pixels do no matter at this point).
There will now be a box set to the ratio entered that covers the largest portion of the screen. From here, grab one of the corners and drag it until the box is just the size you want. The ratio will remain the same.
Don’t worry too much about the over all pixel size at this point, unless you are working with a very small picture. Now you can drag the image or box around until the right portion of the image is lined up and accept the crop (usually performed by pressing the Enter key). When finished, you will have a panorama image most photo developers can easily handle.
The next example shows what can be accomplished with freeform cropping and taking a vertical stance on the image. While the freeform ability of modern programs is great in principle, you will need to find a custom photofinisher capable of printing your image Ã¢â‚¬Ëœas-is’ to retain the stylized crop you give it. These photofinishers are not hard to find but may charge a bit more than the corner 1-Hour Photo store.
The image I selected for this demonstration suffers from too much clutter.
The temple itself is pleasing as are some of the statues in the foreground, but that big light on the left side is just distracting from the subject of the photograph. After trying some standard Rule of Thirds crops, I still didn’t get the image to line up to my liking. So I decided to use a freeform crop. All this means is I will simply draw a box around what I want to keep instead of using the default ratio tools.
Once the area is selected I can fine tune it a bit. Most programs offer Ã¢â‚¬Ëœhandles’ on the crop box corners or sides allowing you to move the box and resize to your liking. Experiment here and see what works best for you. In my case I went real tall to get the whole temple, and real skinny to keep the proportions to my liking. The resultant photograph got rid of the distractions in the image (although it could use a bit of straightening, but that’s for another post).
It’s important to make a note about limits. While cropping can help improve your overall photograph, if the original was taken with a low mega pixel camera, don’t expect to lop off Ã‚Â¾ of the image and still have a great quality (resolution wise) print. Check with the photo printer you plan to use for guidelines on the least amount of pixels they require for a good image and don’t crop below this magical number.
Cropping can gain you some great end results when used wisely. It can help make sure the 5×7 image you requested from the photo printer is exactly what you saw on your screen. It can help make a dramatic panorama print out of an ok standard photograph. And it can give you freedom to experiment with different ratios to see what you can pull out of a cluttered photograph.
Be creative. Have fun. Experiment. Cropping is an easy tool to use in a computer and can help shape your photographs in a new light.
Peter and his wife Kim are avid photographers who enjoy travel, portraiture and wildlife photography. They are slowly getting the bulk of their images online which can be viewed at Hidden Creek Photo. A travel related blog of their past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures.
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