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Author Topic: The "Art" of Cropping  (Read 17450 times)
John Camp
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« Reply #40 on: February 03, 2007, 01:50:21 PM »
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Or alternatively, that I've discovered that all images are not best presented in 4:5 vertical; some are best presented as 3:1 horizontal panos, or square, or even circles or ellipses. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds...
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Consistency is (or can be) an element of design, as well. Especially when you're looking at a book of images, it always feels better when you have variety within limitations. If every photo were some different unexpected shape, then the (to my mind, non-relevant) shapes would become too important in the overall work, detracting from the image. When I go to an art gallery and see paintings that are framed as irregular polygons, I tend to think there's some trickery involved which is intended to disguise the lack of true creativity in the painting...

JC
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« Reply #41 on: February 03, 2007, 01:59:35 PM »
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Consistency is (or can be) an element of design, as well. Especially when you're looking at a book of images, it always feels better when you have variety within limitations. If every photo were some different unexpected shape, then the (to my mind, non-relevant) shapes would become too important in the overall work, detracting from the image. When I go to an art gallery and see paintings that are framed as irregular polygons, I tend to think there's some trickery involved which is intended to disguise the lack of true creativity in the painting...

JC
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Aren't the vast majority of photographs (consistently) rectangular.  As are the magazines and books they are printed in.  The walls they are hung on.
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Stephen Best
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« Reply #42 on: February 03, 2007, 03:24:11 PM »
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Consistency is (or can be) an element of design, as well. Especially when you're looking at a book of images, it always feels better when you have variety within limitations. If every photo were some different unexpected shape, then the (to my mind, non-relevant) shapes would become too important in the overall work, detracting from the image. When I go to an art gallery and see paintings that are framed as irregular polygons, I tend to think there's some trickery involved which is intended to disguise the lack of true creativity in the painting...
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I'm not sure where polygons come into this, but if you just mean irregular proportions then you're getting to the heart if it. It's an integrity thing. Also, if you're able to see a meaningful subject amongst all the clutter when you take the photograph, so will the viewer. Moreover, the act of discovery by the viewer is invaluable. Having an image that can be fully read in a nanosecond just results in blandness.

Getting back to Michael's original article, if you're sitting down and looking at the image in Photoshop asking yourself what the image is about and how can you maximize (or for Michael simplify) this, it's a bit late. I see the tools in Photoshop as the means to follow through with the capture, not just to mine a set of images for something useful. If there was no original intent, you can't expect a consistent message or aesthetics in the results. The sharper the vision, the less important the framing ... you just use what you've got.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2007, 06:00:22 PM by Stephen Best » Logged
madmanchan
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« Reply #43 on: February 03, 2007, 04:53:25 PM »
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Cropping to fill standard inkjet paper sizes with reasonable borders also makes some sense to me,  though I get frustrated when trying to fit an image I regularly print on 17x22 paper into a 13x19 or 11x17 sheet.  I'd be curious how others handle that as I have resigned myself to leaving larger borders on the edges of those papers...
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I know the feeling. My solution for the 4:5 images (which go well on 17x22) is to cut the papers down when using the smaller papers. I use my Rotatrim to do that. And for 3:2 images that I want to print big, there are now a few papers starting to appear in 17x25.

Eric
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Stephen Best
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« Reply #44 on: February 03, 2007, 08:41:08 PM »
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So are you suggesting if I capture a wide, six frame, 4:1 aspect ratio stitched pano with my DSLR, I have to crop it back to 3:2 when I display it?
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Clearly not. The point I'm trying to make is that cropping isn't as necessary as some make out, and trying to stick to the original format (wherever possible) helps focus the mind at capture time. I've been known to crop the top of 35mm vertical portraits myself but in general I try to maximize both the frame's real estate and the impact of the composition with the frame. It's a lot easier with LF though because, as you know, you generally have the time to do so plus movements to get around line-of-sight issues.

Where I think cropping has got out of hand though is this urge to over-simplify to the point where the framing imposes itself on the image, rather than the other way round. It's hard to describe, but it just looks obviously cropped and jars with me. It also says that the photographer didn't have a clear idea of what they were trying to achieve when they made the exposure. I'm looking to share the photographer's vision, not marvel at rescued compositions.
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #45 on: February 03, 2007, 09:17:17 PM »
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It bugs you, got it.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #46 on: February 04, 2007, 03:14:20 AM »
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Clearly not. The point I'm trying to make is that cropping isn't as necessary as some make out, and trying to stick to the original format (wherever possible) helps focus the mind at capture time.

One could just as easily say that's a mental crutch for the unimaginative. When I shoot, I try to maximize my intended output aspect ratio within the viewfinder to get as many pixels into the final print as possible, but I feel no need to try to force my compositions to conform to 3:2/2:3. It's generally best to make the composition match the subject, not the other way around.
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jani
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« Reply #47 on: February 04, 2007, 06:34:47 AM »
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Getting back to Michael's original article, if you're sitting down and looking at the image in Photoshop asking yourself what the image is about and how can you maximize (or for Michael simplify) this, it's a bit late. I see the tools in Photoshop as the means to follow through with the capture, not just to mine a set of images for something useful. If there was no original intent, you can't expect a consistent message or aesthetics in the results. The sharper the vision, the less important the framing ... you just use what you've got.
I can see where you're coming from, but to be frank: this is no different from using standard tools for, ehrm, postprocessing chemical enlargements.

That there is a disconnect in time of when you make your geometrical composition doesn't necessarily make the composition any less valid, useful, pleasing or successful.

I'll counter your Henri Cartier Bresson with Ansel Adams, who did crop his images after the time of photography, for various reasons. For instance, in Surf Sequence, he cropped his images to remove distracting elements and then to match the same format. Not that it should be necessary to cite well-known photographers to attempt to prove a point of view; points of views are exactly that.

Your approach may work for you, but I don't think you should broadcast it as the One True Way. It clearly isn't.

Personally, I try to work with the format of the camera I use, and on occasion crop to match what I thought I saw, or -- Gasp! Shock! Horror! -- something that I see during post-processing but didn't see when I was at the scene. It happens, but it rarely happens with images that otherwise would be duds.

I'm completely agree with Jonathan's "mental crutch" characterization, though. If I should get a sensor that matched the format I wanted to take my pictures in, in advance of taking each picture, I'd need at least five assistants to carry all the gear. And if that isn't a limitation, well ...
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Rob C
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« Reply #48 on: February 04, 2007, 08:03:04 AM »
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Jack Flesher

Thanks for the link you provided - some damn nice work there and exactly the sort of background that I'd love to have available for fashion-related photography, preferrably in b/w. If I'm obliged to pick an instant favourite, I'd say that I was very attracted to the shot titled 'into the light'.

I wouldn't give a damn about the light being or not being weird - it WORKS and that's all you need!

The truth of the matter is that the same logic applies to format, cropping, zooming or whatever means to an end: if it works then that's it, the pragmatic approach coming out on top, partisan thinking being somewhat irrelevant. The only glitch with the argument is, of course, does the technique work in the shot?

On the matter of zoom: glad there's general agreement that position alone governs perspective; if the perspective is right, as has been said, then fine, use a zoom to cut off the extra stuff - you'd do better using a prime, but that's another whole can of worms best left out in the garden.

Ciao - Rob C
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Robert Roaldi
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« Reply #49 on: February 04, 2007, 09:53:30 AM »
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Maybe my brain is too pedestrian, but I am having a difficult time believing that this topic could be so controversial.

If the scene you want to capture happens to fit into the aspect ratio of the camera you happen to have with you, great. If it doesn't, you crop.



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If you absolutely have to crop and you're doing it for exhibition etc, consider using the aspect ratio of the original. A set of images on the wall all with different aspect ratios says that either you're uncomfortable with your chosen format or the images have been overcooked in post-production. It's a giveaway that the photographer is a beginner in my books.

This goes a bit far, it seems to me, and may be unnecessarily doctrinaire. If you mean that an exhibit of pics of different aspect ratios can be placed on a wall in a way that detracts from their collective impact, I can agree. But that's a problem with the layout of the exhibit on the walls, not the with the pictures.
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #50 on: February 04, 2007, 11:35:24 AM »
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The most important point of Michael's essay to me is the logic of using cropping as a tool for emphasizing the purpose of the photograph. That alone would relegate consideration of aspect ratio for its own sake very low on the prority list (unless a client specifies a fixed aspect ratio for a dedicated purpose). So then the question is whether we best get there by pre-visualization or by cropping or by a mixture. Obviously best to do it at capture stage whenever technically suitable, because this maximizes useful pixels, but sometimes this can't work, or sometimes post-visualization sees things that pre-visualization didn't, so crop to suit. I agree with those who see nothing that should be controversial about this, and I thought the essay presented a useful discussion of ends and means.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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Jack Flesher
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« Reply #51 on: February 04, 2007, 11:50:25 AM »
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Where I think cropping has got out of hand though is this urge to over-simplify to the point where the framing imposes itself on the image, rather than the other way round.

I get what you're saying, and would even agree on this point.  But for me I see after the fact cropping can also be a creative tool.  IOW, I think cropping at the shot is important -- a clear concept of what one is capturing so to speak -- but also think that concept can be further enhanced by additional cropping at the processing stage.  I simply see it as an additional creative tool to be used when it benefits the expression of my vision.  In this fashion, I don't see it as crutch to correct any "weakness" in that vision...

Cheers,
« Last Edit: February 04, 2007, 11:51:48 AM by Jack Flesher » Logged

Tim Gray
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« Reply #52 on: February 04, 2007, 11:58:37 AM »
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I think back to one of Alain Briot's earlier articles about judging the size for printing by the content.  Some frames beg for B&W.  Some shots need aggressive PP, even if just limited to dodging and buring.  And some need a crop.

Having said that, I completely agree that the philosophy "I'll fix it later in photoshop" is the crutch  of a second-rater.
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jjj
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« Reply #53 on: February 04, 2007, 07:08:02 PM »
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If you absolutely have to crop and you're doing it for exhibition etc, consider using the aspect ratio of the original. A set of images on the wall all with different aspect ratios says that either you're uncomfortable with your chosen format or the images have been overcooked in post-production. It's a giveaway that the photographer is a beginner in my books.
Or it means the exhibition has a variety of images, which have been treatred as individual images and not just had a cookie cutter template applied to look neat on a gallery wall. And if it it works and looks good, then it er, looks good. A bunch of images all forced into the same aspect ratio, just to look consistent may weaken some of the images, so what would be the point of that. If you want to have an exhibition with a strong central theme it may be appropriate, but imagine a retrospect of 30yrs work. Would you insist only ones the same aspect ratio should be included

There are many ways to approach photography and the only wrong way is to be absolute about how it should or should not be done. Like in quote above.
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #54 on: February 04, 2007, 07:25:19 PM »
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I'm looking to share the photographer's vision, not marvel at rescued compositions.
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How would you ever know the difference? What if the photographer were using a full frame DSLR with an aspect ratio of 2:3 for making a photograph he/she knows from the start will become a square photograph by virtue of the intended composition appropriate to the subject matter? I think you're imposing artificial distinctions on aspects of workflow that can't be and shouldn't be differentiated this way.

And by the way, just about EVERY image I make has a different aspect ratio - something about which I am NOT THE LEAST BIT uncomfortable, no-one has ever suggested my images are the least bit "over-cooked" and I have been making photographs for 5 decades. The camera has a chosen format, not the photograph and not the photographer - unless both are totally unimaginative and slavish to self-imposed conventions.
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #55 on: February 04, 2007, 08:27:43 PM »
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One could just as easily say that's a mental crutch for the unimaginative. When I shoot, I try to maximize my intended output aspect ratio within the viewfinder to get as many pixels into the final print as possible, but I feel no need to try to force my compositions to conform to 3:2/2:3. It's generally best to make the composition match the subject, not the other way around.
Jonathan

Well said. This is true for me whether I am shooting a 5d or an 8"x10". Having said that most of the low print quality images that I see displayed at the local camera clubs come from excessive cropping whether the source is film or digital. It is one thing cropping the sides or top and bottom to change the aspect ratio make a more effective composition. It is quite another to crop significantly all the way around because you didn't have a lens long enough or were too much in a hurry or whatever to frame it properly in the camera.
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Stephen Best
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« Reply #56 on: February 04, 2007, 10:16:14 PM »
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This will be my last post on this subject. It's clear that some have misconstrued what I'm saying or are simply responding with personal attacks. If you're challenged by different approaches, maybe you should just stick with what you're doing. Who's to say what's best for you anyway.

I didn't say you shouldn't mix formats or proportions in a display or collection, just that I don't see that it's necessary for EVERY image to have its own cropping. IMHO, cropping is a way overused tool. If the subject is strong enough and/or you have enough time to work with the framing at capture, you may find you don't need it at all. And cropping, whether done in-camera (ideally) or in post-processing is a means to strengthen the image. Note that strengthen doesn't necessarily mean simplify. In fact overused simplification is a recipe for anodyne images ... again, IMHO.

If I came across as hardline on thus issue, it's simply an overreaction to what I see as means being used to massage an original into "something" (look at the original examples given) rather than craft it into a finished product that maximizes the original intent (presumably there was one). I don't see any long-term personal vision coming from the former.
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« Reply #57 on: February 04, 2007, 11:43:20 PM »
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But that's a problem with the layout of the exhibit on the walls, not the with the pictures.

All rules are there to be broken. But I think Stephen has a valid point too, if you have a gallery, whether at web or otherwise: with all different aspect ratios, obvious and heavy cropping to simplify context, wide range of focal lengths used etc., it *may* look that you have been a little lost on actual shootout.

Or then it may not, so you really know what you are doing.. Anyway more traditional laid-back looking approach with uncropped and unprocessed looking stuff has a whole new meaning nowadays we have been through 10000's of web galleries with replicated post processing tricks and travel memories where 'moving your feet' at location was totally replaced with zooming and cropping. Continuous heavy cropping manifests itself with flat looking output. Been there, done that
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Craig Arnold
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« Reply #58 on: February 05, 2007, 02:26:10 AM »
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If I came across as hardline on thus issue, it's simply an overreaction to what I see as means being used to massage an original into "something" (look at the original examples given) rather than craft it into a finished product that maximizes the original intent (presumably there was one). I don't see any long-term personal vision coming from the former.
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There is a dirty little secret that a lot of photographers have; they go to a location and don't have a fully preconceived and planned image in their heads when they go out shooting. Instead they take a whole bunch of shots of whatever seems visually interesting to them at the time. Later they look through the pictures they have taken (call them snapshots if you like) and try to choose the best images and work them into a shape that pleases them.

They may have had a broad notion of the type of images they were looking for that day, they may have a general social or artistic theme or body of work they are trying to build up. But they didn't necessarily know consciously before they took the shot what they were looking for. Given the resources they would not have been able to build a movie set to build that image.

I must confess, I am such a photographer, and always feel somewhat intimidated when people go around professing an "artistic vision" that they held clearly in their head before they framed the shot, sometimes apparently even before they got where they were going. As it happens I suspect that I am far from alone. And I suspect that MR generally works the same way I do. (He's rather better than I am at it however.) I would also suggest that this is in fact true of many of the great photographers.

I must also say that looking at the portfolios of those who profess to having the higher vision compared to those who simply react visually to what they see, it's really not that clear that their work is any better.

So there is my confession. I sometimes go back to a picture afterwards and crop or make other adjustments because my vision failed me at the time, but nevertheless am often able to "rescue" something that pleases me. Sometimes there just was no "original intent". Sometimes indeed, there was an "original intent" and I messed up the shot, and yet fortuitously there is still something interesting that can be "rescued" from the shot, and occasionally even *gasp* dare I say better than my "original intent".

I have a question for the visionaries: How does the "decisive moment" fit into your photography? I would suggest that it cannot. Do you really have a list of shots that you want to get when you prepare for the day? And if those shots have  old carts proceeding down interesting alleyways I would love to see some examples.

I also have a question about the nature of this thing called "original intent": does it actually matter at all? If two photographers take identical images of a scene, one had it all carefully thought out and planned. Took the shot, packed his gear and left. The other happened by just as the first was leaving. Had a look around and saw an interesting shot which he snapped. The two produce the same photograph - is the first any better? If so, why?

And just to stay on theme; the first photographer felt the scene would be best represented in a square format and so brought along his 6x6 camera. The second was using a 3:2 format and felt the best image was a square crop, which he decided later on when looking at it. The two images are identical. Is the first any better?

P.S. To Stephen please do not take this as a personal attack, in this thread you happen to be representative of a particular viewpoint, and my comments are intended in that light.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2007, 02:49:20 AM by peripatetic » Logged

Rob C
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« Reply #59 on: February 05, 2007, 04:03:56 AM »
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Peripatetic

Not a dirty little secret at all - more a measure of the reality which all pros face (I don't know if that's you or not) on going off on assignment.

Take a normal fashion or, let's say, calendar shoot: there's a requirement to produce a given number of final pages/sheets which get selected from a larger submitted total. No, I certainly don't go looking for a decisive moment as such - I go looking to set up a situation where model and photographer can start playing about with ideas. Once that's established - and sometimes it fails to happen, at great mental cost - the process of shooting around that situation gets underway. Then, there does come that moment when you know you've got it in the bag. After that, the process starts all over again somewhere else. But with respect, all that creative juice is still being channelled through the format of either the layout of the print job or, in my case, as I have been fortunate enough to call the shots in many such cases, through the format of the camera I have chosen to use. But a set format, nonetheless.

I don't say this is everyone's experience of photography and neither do I say it's the only way, but it certainly illustrates the advantage of cutting down on the variables and concentrating on the subject in hand. I find it hard to think of situations where the subject matter is so tightly composed by nature that it won't fit the camera available (unless it happens to be square!), perhaps tight pics of pebbles etc. are a case where this is so - but that's not my bag anyway. I find it very hard to subscribe to the proclaimed views here that the 'subject' is screaming out for a one-off framing and nothing else will do; on the contrary, I believe that framing can be done perfectly well in many different ways, much as the various attempts to play with Michael's original image have shown to one and all. Getting up too close on the so-called subject can take it out of context and utterly remove its significance.

As for the talk about 'narrative' which fills so many pages of photography magazines - do me a favour! Somethings appeals to the photographer, he takes a picture and that's damn well it! Nada mas.

Ciao - Rob C
« Last Edit: February 05, 2007, 04:06:58 AM by Rob C » Logged

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