Quickie: Cropping

Posted on June 26, 2008. Filed under: Photography |

There is a discussion on cropping going on at Inside Aperture.

I tend to crop as a rule, as it means I capture “outside the crop” routinely.

One scenario I’ve to fairly often is needing to fit a well-framed picture into a different aspect ratio (like, say, a TV screen rather than the native 4×6 ratio). The choices here are:

  1. Live with black bars top and bottom
  2. Remove (presumably vital) bits of the picture left and right.

If that 4×6 was cropped down by 10%, then I get a third option:

  1. Replace extra picture context top-and-bottom.

The question then becomes: which preserves the integrity of the picture better, adding potential distractions top and/or bottom, or removing potential vital bits left and right.

Of course, when always cropping, you “lose megapixels” (or, more precisely, resolution, which might be lens resolution or sensor resolution). That is of course true, but I find I generally have more resolution than I need, especially considering three or four years ago I was happy enough with 3MP so long as I didn’t have to crop anything.

Keeping the master aspect ratio is my default action here. It’s rare that I change the directionality of the image (ie, from portrait to landscape), and only happens if I mess up in the field. I also keep my “reference images” consistent at 4×6 crops (even cropping down the 3x4s my wife’s camera makes), which makes flipping through them less jarring than otherwise and keeps them ready to proof out on 4×6 paper to share with anyone who wants to hold a print. “Special” crops are kept as separate versions, and might be any aspect ratio (the frame may dictate this, or I may choose an aspect ratio which does the best job of capturing the spirit of the picture).

I also find that the crop-as-default is a great tactic when working on image series. While I try to move with the action when, say, a player is sliding in to home plate, I find that when I’m looking at the series later on I will want to adjust the focal point from frame to frame. This may be keeping the focal point unmoving throughout, or it may be moving the focal point across the screen. Being able to try both (and the various middle grounds) in the comfort of my home allows me to make the right choice for a particular product (ex, the end-of-season DVD) and change my approach for other products (ex, a single-frame blow-up of the tag).

Example Series

Here’s an example from a recent tournament game for my daughter’s team. One of our players stole home on a wild pitch, sliding in flat under the tag from the pitcher. It was a close call. You can step through the series starting at the first image.


The first image is cropped in to bring focus to the primary players (the catcher and the runner). This is where the focus is kept throughout until literally the last image. I know these are going to be displayed as a series, though, so I will need to discreetly adjust the frame to allow more space to the left throughout the series.


By the fourth image, I’ve kept the crop pretty stationary on the right while pulling it out a little on the left, so that in the fifth image (to right) the umpire’s hand is well in the frame as well as the billowing dust cloud from the action.

(Note: I’m not completely agreeing with the Ump’s call here, as it looks like our player had her foot up off the plate when she was tagged, but as I tell our girls: as many of these go against you as go for you.)

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One Response to “Quickie: Cropping”

RSS Feed for Tom Dibble’s Nuggets of …  Wisdom? Comments RSS Feed

Hey Tom, some good information there. Action and sports photography are great candidates for cropping since so much is out of the photographer’s control and you don’t want to be too tight, since you can’t get it back. From my documentary point of view, I would never “paint that extra in”, because I have chosen to capture reality without altering it in any way beyond the traditional color correcting and exposure controls. Not meaning to get on a high horse here, but this is how documentary photographers operate ethically, since any changes made in one photo puts doubt over an entire archive that photographer has produced. It’s journalism and it’s the code of ethics photojournalists live by. Those who have breached this code have damaged their reputations and career in ways they could never recover from.


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