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Author Topic: The "Art" of Cropping  (Read 16795 times)
Stephen Best
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« on: February 02, 2007, 01:49:05 AM »
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Everybody crops, I just choose to do it in-camera. Trying to rescue something decent from a capture after the fact sounds like shoddy technique. Different aspect ratios certainly jar in exhibitions. You see it all the time in magazines for beginners: crop it so and so and it will be much better ... except the results are generally so simplified that they tend to the banal. Every photographic subject has a context and it doesn't hurt to allow the viewer to make up their own mind what's worth looking at. In the best photographs you're not even conscious of the framing being imposed. Even with street photographers like HCB, I don't recall the images being excessively cropped:

http://www.afterimagegallery.com/bresson.htm

I can understand why someone would want to get away from the 2:3 ratio but if you're using this, you might as well learn to make the most from it. Retaining what you've got will also maximize print quality. It's a discipline worth adopting.
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Rob C
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« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2007, 03:21:18 AM »
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Stephen - I agree with your proposition 100%. I would suggest (perhaps because he's now offline and can't reply!) that Michael's problem with the shot with the cart exists precisely because he shot it too soon to avoid losing it altogether.

I do not agree that his final, mono choice has made the best of what was available on the fame. The additional figures lend scale and all that was needed to save the pic was to cut off from the right and balance the weights. The shot of the guys inside the window might have been different - there is no distraction visible and if all that was cut from the frame was more wall, then I see nothing gained by taking it away.

Using all the real estate on full-frame 35mm is more than simply a matter of following the maker's provision. The entire concept of the shot is formed on that screen unless, of course, one is using a rangefinder camera which, in my opinion, does not really posses the added quality of compositional ease sometimes attributed to it. In fact, I would suggest that very nature of the non-reflex camera leads to a loss of control of the image rather than the other way around. There's no need for anyone to reiterate all the old chestnuts about keeping both eyes open etc., that is done during the framing anyhow - it's focussing that is easier with one. It's my opinion that many people simply subscribe to myths of one kind or another as a means of making photography more interesting. It's interesting enough already - there's no need to confuse the issue with ideolgies!

Ciao - Rob C
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Ray
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« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2007, 04:09:17 AM »
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Everybody crops, I just choose to do it in-camera.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=98825\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Everybody who uses a zoom lens tries to do it in-camera, but sometimes the lens one has attached to camera is not long enough and/or one doesn't have time to change it or even perhaps time to frame the shot carefully. One such shot I came across recently whilst organizing my images, is shown below. I was sitting across the road from a public toilet, quietly enjoying a beer, when from the corner of my eye I espied a young lady preening herself in the mirror, whilst some guy in the background was having a piss.

As an Australian, this was an unusual sight. Not wanting to miss a photographic opportunity, I picked up my 5D with 24-105 lens, which was lying on the table, and took a quick shot at maximum focal length. I tried to take a second shot more carefully composed, but the lady quickly left the scene.

After cropping, the 36mb image was reduced to just 11mb, but much improved and a nice bit of social commentary, don't you think?

If anyone wants to buy this, they can have it for a lot less than $10,000   .

[attachment=1720:attachment]
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drm
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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2007, 06:04:27 AM »
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The ultimate objective I suppose is to have a ginormous sensor and a 180 FOV lens.  Then you can just point and shoot, and crop at will later.

Personally I'm usually far more satisfied with a shot I don't need to crop at all, than one I do need to. And "unplanned cropping", well, I sometimes do it, but I have to say it is always with the wish that I'd got it right in the first place.

I find the comment (in What's New) "It constantly amazes me that some photographers feel that it's worthwhile, necessary, or even obligatory to print their images to the format and aspect ratio provided by their particular camera. But they do" somewhat patronising.  One could answer that some photographers have the skill to do so. Others don't.  Which would be equally offensive, and equally blinkered.

I don't have anything to object to in the article itself, but I have to say that many, many experts advocate using cropping to learn how to see, rather than to "fix it in the mix".

It is amazing what discipline over framing you tend to acquire when you're limited to 5 Megapixels...
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David Mantripp
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Stephen Best
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2007, 06:36:42 AM »
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The ultimate objective I suppose is to have a ginormous sensor and a 180 FOV lens.  Then you can just point and shoot, and crop at will later.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=98842\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

No different really to press photographers that put the camera into continuous and point it in the general direction. Not my idea of photography though.

I think it's useful to follow the instincts that caused you to compose and take the photograph in the first place.
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madmanchan
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2007, 06:46:29 AM »
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But I think one of Michael's points it that there's no good aesthetic reason to limit yourself to the aspect ratio that comes with the camera. That is to say, many of today's DSLRs offer a 3:2 aspect ratio not because the 3:2 ratio is the best for all images, but because it is common and standard.

Sometimes I find myself looking at a subject and envisioning a more square composition or a more panorama-like composition, but I just have one tool, which is my 3:2 DSLR. So I'll frame wide enough to capture all that I want but with the notion in mind that I'm going to crop it to the desired aspect ratio afterwards (i.e., in the RAW converter).

Eric
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michael
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2007, 07:07:51 AM »
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I'm still around for a few hours till I head for the airport, so I'll add to the mix.

It seems to me that some here have completely missed the point of the essay. There is nothing sacrosanct about 24X36, 4X3, 6x17, 8x10 or any other format or size. These are aspect ratios chosen by companies for commercial reasons, not esthetic ones. Forcing ones image to comply with one of these simply because that's what you happen to have in hand, is to enforce a rigidity on ones work that simply isn't necessary.

Visit an art gallery. Look at the paintings. You will see that the artists have chosen every aspect ratio and size imaginable. Beginning artists go to the art supply store and by pre-stretched cavases. But there comes a point when an artists breaks free of that commercial constraint and starts to stretch their own canvases to accomodate their vision.

 That's what I'm suggest. Let the subject dictate the composition, not the box in your hands. If you're shooting with a 2 1/4 square camera and a natural panorama presents itself, shoot it and crop. If a subject cries out to be square, make it so, even if you're shooting with 35mm.

Listen to the subject. Hear what it wants to be. This isn't about "saving" a shot. There's nothing to save when you realize that you had no obligation to force the subject into the camera makers window. Let the subject fit into the window of your mind.

It's all about crearive freedom.

Michael
« Last Edit: February 02, 2007, 07:08:23 AM by michael » Logged
Stephen Best
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2007, 07:11:44 AM »
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Sometimes I find myself looking at a subject and envisioning a more square composition or a more panorama-like composition, but I just have one tool, which is my 3:2 DSLR. So I'll frame wide enough to capture all that I want but with the notion in mind that I'm going to crop it to the desired aspect ratio afterwards (i.e., in the RAW converter).
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=98847\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Instead of thinking about the "composition" in some abstract sense, try instead to think about how you can compose the subject within the frame, whatever the frame's proportions. If you move yourself slightly, offset the subject within the frame etc you'll generally arrive at something that just feels "right". This is when to make the exposure. You don't have to provide the focus, the viewer will do this. If you go out not knowing whether you're shooting panorama or full frame, B&W or colour there's just too many variables and possibilities to guarantee consistently good results ... at least this is what I've found.
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drm
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2007, 07:27:49 AM »
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Adding options and variables does not necessarily enhance creative freedom. It simply provides you with so many choices that you can't see the wood for trees.   Take say, a 28-200 zoom, and the  freedom to crop as you wish in post processing, then you already have so many variables that your creative vision is likely to be dulled. There are clearly two camps here, but I'm firmly in the "restrictions encourage creativity and vision" school.  That doesn't mean I never crop, but as I said before, this is almost always to correct something.  If I'm using my E-1, my mind is framing 4:3. If I'm using the Xpan, 3:1, and so forth....  I'm not saying this is the "right" approach, but I cannot accept that it is "wrong", or indeed restrictive.
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madmanchan
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« Reply #9 on: February 02, 2007, 07:45:21 AM »
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Instead of thinking about the "composition" in some abstract sense, try instead to think about how you can compose the subject within the frame, whatever the frame's proportions. If you move yourself slightly, offset the subject within the frame etc you'll generally arrive at something that just feels "right". This is when to make the exposure. You don't have to provide the focus, the viewer will do this. If you go out not knowing whether you're shooting panorama or full frame, B&W or colour there's just too many variables and possibilities to guarantee consistently good results ... at least this is what I've found.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=98850\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I follow what you're saying, Stephen, but I feel we're approaching composition from two different angles here. What you seem to be saying is "given the frame that we have, find a way of composing the subject that suits the frame." What I'm trying to say is, "Find a way of composing the subject that suits the subject, but the way that suits the subject may not necessarily suit the frame." Make sense?

Eric
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Stephen Best
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« Reply #10 on: February 02, 2007, 07:50:20 AM »
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I follow what you're saying, Stephen, but I feel we're approaching composition from two different angles here. What you seem to be saying is "given the frame that we have, find a way of composing the subject that suits the frame." What I'm trying to say is, "Find a way of composing the subject that suits the subject, but the way that suits the subject may not necessarily suit the frame." Make sense?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=98856\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

If you're not shooting 6x6, you've got portrait AND landscape ... what more do you need? :-)
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madmanchan
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« Reply #11 on: February 02, 2007, 07:52:05 AM »
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If you're not shooting 6x6, you've got portrait AND landscape ... what more do you need? :-)
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Well, if we had sensors or films that could automagically reconfigure their aspect ratios in the field at the push of a switch ...  

Eric
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Nill Toulme
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« Reply #12 on: February 02, 2007, 08:21:10 AM »
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I tried cropping in the camera once or twice, but the referees chased me back off the field.    

Nill
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John Camp
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« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2007, 10:18:09 AM »
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I strongly agree with Michael on the concept, although I disagree with his crop in this particular photo. It seems absurd to me to try to jam any particular human composition into a 2:3 aspect ratio; most things just don't fit. If you wander around trying to find things that fit, you'll miss 99 percent of the possible good photos. IMHO, the aspect ratios of the MF cameras are much better than the traditional 35mm aspect ratio, which was chosen for several practical reasons which had little to do with the aesthetics of composition. (There were commercial reasons, but also, at the time, the 35mm was about the smallest film/camera combination from which you could get a really good magazine-sized shot.) In any case, the compose-in-camera-only idea strikes me as an old photo folk myth that needs to be discarded.

As to this specific image, I think Michael mistakes exactly what makes it. There are all kinds of guys in carts, but the colors are terrific, and color, not subject, is what holds this composition together. There is a nice progress from the red-orange of the wall behind the cart to the darker red of the door to the most-saturated color in the figure on the left, which functions as a kind of "period." If I were cropping it, I'd crop right behind the back wheel, and trim just a tiny strip off the left side, so that we loose those architectural lines just to the left of the small figure.

I think Michael also misunderstands the comment about "If your pictures aren't good, you're not close enough." That was originally attributed to Robert Capa, speaking of war photos, and what he was saying was that if your pictures weren't good enough, you weren't taking enough risks and getting right in where the action was. His point didn't involved cropping, it was being in position to get the photo *at all.*

JC
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #14 on: February 02, 2007, 10:20:18 AM »
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... and there are those who look with distain on cropping but actually order 8x10 prints from their 35mm negatives!
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Rob C
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« Reply #15 on: February 02, 2007, 11:05:12 AM »
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Ray - what a hell of a spot to pick to have a beer!

Ciao - Rob  C
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Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2007, 11:26:45 AM »
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Saying that a camera's format is nothing more than a manufacturer's accident of design is beside the point. The real point is that with smaller formats you have to make maximum use of what's available to you if you want to retain good quality of reproduction. And you get used to working within that frame.

It is also true that once you have become used to your equipment you no longer ever ask yourself whether it is a vertical or a horizontal situation - you just KNOW. It is also true that square formats are very demanding from a design point of view and that it is not easy to crop them well. In fact, whilst people shots can sometimes be cropped as verticals from a square frame with a certain degree of success, cropping a square with people to a horizontal is far less easy to do, assuming you have been 'close enough' to make best use of your opportunities! Of course, this is anecdotal, my personal experience from heavy shooting of people on both 35mm and 6x6 cameras and mixing them is something which I have tried to avoid getting myself into having to do. It is almost as emotionally troublesome as shooting colour and black and white on the same job.

Michael shows a horizontal shot in letterbox country; yes, that one does work, but that sort of framing is uncomfortable to view over a period and soon loses its intrinsic charm, turning far more readily into gimmick than does a collection of bog-standard off-the-shelf formats. For me, that was always going to be a problem with the slit Hasselblads and tribe - possibly cool, on occasion, horizontally but hardly ever so vertically; not worth the price.

One can provide/prove exceptions to everything, even global warming; let's just get on with what we do and just make the most of it.

Ciao - Rob C
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Nill Toulme
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« Reply #17 on: February 02, 2007, 12:00:42 PM »
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...It's my opinion that many people simply subscribe to myths of one kind or another as a means of making photography more interesting. It's interesting enough already - there's no need to confuse the issue with ideolgies!
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
Very good summary of the thread, and done before the thread really even got going!  ;-)

Nill
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BJL
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« Reply #18 on: February 02, 2007, 12:21:58 PM »
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The real point is that with smaller formats you have to make maximum use of what's available to you if you want to retain good quality of reproduction. And you get used to working within that frame.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=98897\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
I do not see how good quality in enhanced by having irrelevant, distract elements near some edges of the print. I can see no virtue putting stuff into my final images that is irrelevant or even distracting just because "I payed for the pixels and so I am going to use all of them". That is like forcing down food that you do not like or is more than your appetite needs, just because you have to pay for it anyway.

It is often not possible to position one's subject and camera so that everything you want in the image fits the particular rectangular shape of the camera (3:2 or 4:3 or whatever) and everything you do not want falls outside that rectangle. As an extreme example, I have a photo mounted with a circular matte, as that is the only way to present the subject without very annoying peripheral elements.

I doubt that the "never crop" approach is the usual practice with portraits from 35mm format cameras (or other 3:2 shaped cameras), as it would impose a "three high by two wide" shape that rarely suits portraiture and indeed, is often far from ideal for other "verticals") If "never crop" were dominant, 8"x12" prints would be far more common that they are, and 5"x7", 8"x10", 11"x14", 8.5"x11", A4, A3, A2, etc. would all be far less common, since none of them exactly fits any common camera format shape, either 3:2 or 4:3.
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #19 on: February 02, 2007, 12:36:23 PM »
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And I suppose all the "anti cropping" faction would never think to shoot portrait
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