Cropping photos is one of those things that seems to divide photographers into two factions — those who think you should frame your scene perfectly in camera at the moment you take the shot, and those who are of the mindset that the picture you capture is merely a starting point. I tend to fall into the latter group. Cropping can’t necessarily make a bad photo good, but like other post processing techniques, it can turn a good photo into something great.
As photographers we try our best to get everything right “in camera” by thoughtfully composing a scene and adjusting settings before we snap the shot. Often that’s just the beginning though. After the shot we have the ability to adjust almost every parameter of our photo. Exposure, contrast and saturation can all be tweaked to make a picture more gritty and dark, or more bright and airy. Highlights can be purposefully blown out, or shadows can be pushed to pure black. We can apply different color treatments, such as black and white or a sepia tone to a photo to evoke a certain feeling. Like any of these creative tools, cropping is just another arrow in your quiver that you can use to completely change the feel of your photo.
Cropping a photo doesn’t mean that I’m not mindfully composing the shot and focusing on what I want to focus on. I’ll often have a crop in my head as I’m evaluating a scene. For a large landscape, a panoramic crop is usually on my mind.
When I encountered this snowy scene on top of a parking garage the symmetry drew me in, and I immediately knew I wanted a square crop.
In Adobe Lightroom you can play around with the crop overlay and non-destructively try different crops. You can try panoramic crops like 16:9 or 2:1 for a sweeping cinematic feel. Try a 1:1 crop and play around with symmetry. You can push and pull the crop overlay to see how your main subject might look placed dead center or on a third. You can even make virtual copies of your photos and have various crops of the same photo. This works really well for sharing to different social media (e.g. Instagram uses a 1:1 crop, Twitter uses a 2:1)
Ever since I started using my Olympus OM-D E-M5, I haven’t been afraid of cropping as much as I used to be with my DSLR. The OM-D has a 16MP sensor and can really handle the pixels being punished. If I don’t have the right lens with me, I’ll often take the scene I can get at the time and later crop it into the photo I want.
Not every photo needs to be cropped, just like not every photo needs post processing. But remember that we have a lot of tools at our disposal, and effectively cropping your photos is something that every photographer should keep in mind when thinking about how you want an image to appear to the viewer.
Which camp do you fall into? Do you unapologetically crop, or think when the photo comes out of the camera that your aspect ratio is cemented? Let me know in the comments!