Cropping – after the fact

The main thing that I have to say about this topic is

Don’t – don’t crop just because you couldn’t be troubled to get the framing right in-camera. Too many folks take the approach – “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” (whatever “it” may be).

Is your first thought when viewing an image – “How should the cropping be changed?” If so, you’ve developed a bad habit – especially if the image in question is yours as that question should have been answered while looking through the viewfinder at capture. If you don’t routinely capture the best image possible in-camera, then you’re simply taking pictures and not making images. It’s your choice to make, just sayin‘.
Note that I did not say that cropping after the fact is never appropriate. There will be times when –

  • The subject isn’t suited to a 3:2 (or whatever) aspect ratio and so you do the best that’s possible and – “fix it in Photoshop.” Note that when doing this, you should do your in-camera framing with an eye toward the post-cropped view – you don’t get off the hook completely.
  • A publication’s layout dictates different cropping
  • It is physically impossible for you to change your position or perspective as needed to get the proper framing
  • You don’t have the right focal length lens (ties into the reason above)
  • You just plain made a mistake

Getting the framing right in-camera usually requires the use of a tripod in order to make the fine little “fussy” changes needed for perfect framing. This is the reason top photographers use a tripod¬† (and not to prevent camera shake).
Getting the framing right requires that you understand the basics of composition and visual design. If you don’t, how will you know what you’re looking for? Ways to gain this understanding include –

  • Looking at lots images made by good photographers (and paintings, too).
  • Participate in image critiques – the foremost of which is critiquing your own images – on a regular basis.
  • Follow this maxim while looking through the viewfinder –
    • Keep eliminating things from the frame until you reach the point where the next elimination degrades the image.
      • This can be done many ways including changing your distance from the scene (with your feet), changing focal length, changing angle (moving left/right and up/down), changing camera orientation (portrait and landscape) – and the list goes on. The lazy shooter makes one image and then tries to accomplish the “eliminations” after the fact in Photoshop.
    • Doing this step while looking through the viewfinder will help cure that urge to crop (eliminate) after the fact.

Make your goal to Capture the best image possible – in every respect – in-camera. If you’ve done this, then be true to yourself and your vision for this image and don’t cave in to the “croppers.”

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