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Author Topic: History of The Religion of Cropping ?  (Read 594107 times)
Melodi
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« on: May 09, 2009, 01:45:09 PM »
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It seems that there must be some history that I'm missing regarding the comments from those who like to compose with the view finder versus those who like the freedom of cropping later.  

I've heard and read comments about the conceit of those who like to use the view finder and don't like to crop later.  I even heard some strong opinions on this in an LL instructional video.

I feel it to be a very different experience and do prefer one over the other, and I must add, this is at this time in my life and experience...Things change.  

I don't see any need for regarding one or the other as a correct or incorrect way or consider people in either group to be conceited or not conceited, and certainly don't exclude people in either group as artists.  

I'm just curious, is there some history to these strong opinions that I'm not aware of?  

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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2009, 03:38:14 PM »
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There's nothing "conceited" about getting the composition in-camera as close as possible to that of the final print. Cropping throws away resolution; it logically follows that to the extent resolution and sharpness are desirable attributes of the final print (and they always are to some degree; it is impossible to have a meaningful image without some resolution/sharpness), cropping is an undesirable step and should be kept to a minimum.

Most photographers prefer to compose the shot in-camera so that the only cropping necessary is to alter the aspect ratio of the image, say from 3:2 ratio of a 35mm DSLR to the 4:5 ratio of an 8x10 print. Ideally in this example, only the ends of the original frame would be cropped away; the sides would be left alone. Murphy's law dictates that this ideal will not always be the case, but that does not mean it is is not a goal worth striving for whenever possible. Failing to do so is no less a sin than not bothering to focus properly; both have a similarly negative impact on the resolution and sharpness of the final print.
« Last Edit: May 09, 2009, 03:41:02 PM by Jonathan Wienke » Logged

bill t.
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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2009, 06:47:15 PM »
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The Cropping Police are an insidious threat to Photograph Freedom.  Just say no to Creeping Cropism.  Or I'll report you to the Perspective Police.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2009, 08:42:31 PM »
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I use small cameras, but still crop. Cropping is very valuable because I can spend much more time in the field looking for possible images and capturing "around" them a dozen different ways, then be concerned about rotation (that comes first) and cropping when I'm back in the lab.

I've taken the perfect photo many times, and more often than not, any cropping also introduces the necessity of a slight rotation, perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 degree. You can judge rotation by horizon lines etc., but in the end, you have to look (not once, but even days later) and ask "is it right?"

Once those two things are out of the way, the other fixes can be applied.
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2009, 09:06:57 PM »
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Quote from: Melodi
It seems that there must be some history that I'm missing regarding the comments from those who like to compose with the view finder versus those who like the freedom of cropping later.  

I've heard and read comments about the conceit of those who like to use the view finder and don't like to crop later.  I even heard some strong opinions on this in an LL instructional video.

I feel it to be a very different experience and do prefer one over the other, and I must add, this is at this time in my life and experience...Things change.  

I don't see any need for regarding one or the other as a correct or incorrect way or consider people in either group to be conceited or not conceited, and certainly don't exclude people in either group as artists.  

I'm just curious, is there some history to these strong opinions that I'm not aware of?


Just curious, do you ever print an 8x10?  11x14?  3x5?  4x6?
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KeithR
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« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2009, 10:35:21 PM »
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In the days of film, I always tried to crop within the camera. I came to really like the 35mm format and still do. But now after shooting nothing but digital for the past 4-5 years, I find the viewfinder as just another tool that I use to get close to what I may have envisioned. I still try to crop in the viewfinder, but I don't allow myself to be constrained by it. I often find that after I have had a chance to look at an image on my monitor, I find that there are things I may have missed, or even images that I didn't see when I was composing a shot, and then cropping almost becomes mandatory.
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2009, 11:30:08 PM »
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I'm just curious, is there some history to these strong opinions that I'm not aware of?

Yes there is. As I remember the history.....back in the days when contact printing from large negatives was the norm (before modern papers that were fast enough to enlarge) there was a belief that in-camera seeing was superior. Paul Strand is a good example. He actually had his camera altered to give him negatives of what he considered the perfect rectangle and he never cropped when printing.

Beyond that I think I completely agree with Jonathan. Having shot transparency film commercially for some 28 years, I preferred to send perfectly composed FF 4x5 images to my magazine clients. That way I was much more likely to get my composition printed instead of the art director. Nothing has changed for me in digital.
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daws
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« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2009, 11:32:53 PM »
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Quote from: bill t.
The Cropping Police are an insidious threat to Photograph Freedom.  Just say no to Creeping Cropism.  Or I'll report you to the Perspective Police.

Hah! The CP and PP are sissies compared to the Legion of Horizon Levelers.

- Fred Dawson
Member, L.H.L. Local 395
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RSL
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« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2009, 11:37:33 AM »
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One thing I've noticed, and it's a pretty general observation: people who crop regularly don't make as good pictures as those who treat cropping strictly as an emergency procedure. I think the reason is that a good photographer pre-visualizes a photograph by throwing a mental frame around a subject before he lifts the camera and throws the camera's frame around it. In other words, he makes a decision about the photograph and then carries out the decision by actually making the photograph. People who make a practice of cropping haven't really made a decision before they snap the shutter. The result is tentative, and often wishy-washy. The habitual cropper then tries to find an actual photograph in what he's shot, and what results often is strained and unconvincing.

On the other hand, there are times when you can't avoid cropping. Here's an example. Once I had the camera to my eye I had less than a second to get the shot. A guy walked into the frame from the left just as I tripped the shutter and I had to crop him out. That kind of thing doesn't happen often, but it does happen. Same thing's true of an incorrect horizon. If you're shooting fast it's not unusual to have to straighten the horizon. But these problems are just that -- problems. The cropping that results is truly an emergency procedure.

[attachment=13587:Fifth_Grade.jpg]
« Last Edit: May 15, 2009, 09:55:52 AM by RSL » Logged

k bennett
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« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2009, 01:32:34 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
One thing I've noticed, and it's a pretty general observation: people who crop regularly don't make as good pictures as those who treat cropping strictly as an emergency procedure.


Wow. Just wow.

You might find this link interesting. Not sure if you would consider these "emergency" crops or not.

http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2009/04/27/spo...lide-show-book/
« Last Edit: May 10, 2009, 01:32:47 PM by k bennett » Logged

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bill t.
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« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2009, 01:39:58 PM »
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If I have to crop then I didn't understand what I was shooting, a failure of seeing on my part as RSL pointed out.  Anti-cropping is a good discipline because it forces me look at my subject carefully right from the start, and to think of the finished photograph right from the start.  Shooting images in the hopes of finding something there in post is to be awash and incompetent in the visual skills.

An embrace of cropping encourages the funny concept that a photograph needs to have a single, tightly defined subject that is the focus of the entire image.  I don't buy that at all, photographs can legitimately be about spaces, have multiple rambling subjects, and have other valid qualities that violate the tunnel visionary cropping-is-good paradigm.

I have two technical objections to cropping...

1.  When it upsets (mostly left-right) perspective in pictures where perspective is important.  In that case it's hoaky, don't do it.  In particular badly cropped architecture looks awful.

2.  The crop is extreme enough to noticeably degrade image quality.

As to the origins of the powerful cropping tradition, it must have it roots in high-school classrooms where it is an easy and engaging way to fill up one rotation of the minute hand.  Young minds are so impressionable.
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whawn
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« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2009, 01:49:35 PM »
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For all the reasons cited, Full Frame is preferable, but of course there are some compositions and subjects that don't fit the standard 5:4, 4:3, or 3:2 aspect ratios.  Cropping the extra is worthwhile in those cases.  I really like the extra dollop freedom from a 2x2 MF frame.  I can compose in the viewfinder, and then revamp to a H or V final image of any aspect ratio.  Or I can leave it square.  It's cool.

And if an art director recrops?  Well, I get paid.  And I can (silently, in my heart) call the AD an idiot.  Sadly,  that is not always so.  It is possible for an AD to Get It Right.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2009, 01:55:36 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
One thing I've noticed, and it's a pretty general observation: people who crop regularly don't make as good pictures as those who treat cropping strictly as an emergency procedure.

Exactly. I you haven't figured out a decent composition before you press the shutter release, the odds of finding one after the fact are significantly reduced. Minimal cropping to fit a particular aspect ratio or straighten a horizon that's off a degree or two is a necessary evil of post work. But if you're regularly hacking off more than 25% of your capture to try to salvage an image that wasn't composed properly in the first place, you're either sloppy or clueless, and it is negatively affecting your work.

I find it humorous that many practitioners of vigorous cropping are pixel-peepers who sneer at the notion of using a zoom lens because primes are 10% sharper, but see nothing wrong with cropping away 30-50% of the captured image because they couldn't get the framing quite right because they couldn't "foot zoom" quickly enough to capture the decisive moment with optimal composition in-camera. This is one of the most-overlooked advantages of a zoom over a prime; you can get the composition exactly right to minimize or eliminate the need for cropping, even in situations where "foot zooming" with a prime would be dangerous or impossible. This is especially true when shooting landscapes, where "foot zooming" might require walking several miles (during which time the light would change, of course) or hovering over the edge of a cliff; and when shooting events where circumstances require the photographer to be constrained to a small area or fixed location (weddings, sporting events, street photography where backing into a busy street would be unwise, etc.). Eschewing zooms in favor of primes in situations where that choice necessitates heavy cropping is being penny wise and pound foolish.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #13 on: May 10, 2009, 04:24:54 PM »
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Quote from: Melodi
It seems that there must be some history that I'm missing regarding the comments from those who like to compose with the view finder versus those who like the freedom of cropping later.  

I've heard and read comments about the conceit of those who like to use the view finder and don't like to crop later.  I even heard some strong opinions on this in an LL instructional video.

I feel it to be a very different experience and do prefer one over the other, and I must add, this is at this time in my life and experience...Things change.  

I don't see any need for regarding one or the other as a correct or incorrect way or consider people in either group to be conceited or not conceited, and certainly don't exclude people in either group as artists.  

I'm just curious, is there some history to these strong opinions that I'm not aware of?

Just my two cents-
I only crop when I have no alternative, as throwing away resolution seems unhelpful. Landscape photographs generally allow time for careful study of composition with the camera on a tripod. As a result I almost never crop a landscape photograph. If anything I'm more likely to stitch multiple frames together.
People photographs are another matter. This may simply reflect my lack of skill, but I find that the need to compose, focus, choose exposure and shoot on the fly hand-held with moving human subjects means I have a lot more photos with an errant tree branch or awkward frame edge needing rescue. Last night I took the obligatory photos of my son's prom night preparations. Invariably the only shot where everyone's eyes were open and expressions perfect had something awkward that was best cropped out. Sigh.
At least with high-megapixel capture it doesn't hurt quite so much, and I'm less likely to print people pix at 24x36" to count every pore and nose-hair.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #14 on: May 10, 2009, 04:59:30 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
One thing I've noticed, and it's a pretty general observation: people who crop regularly don't make as good pictures as those who treat cropping strictly as an emergency procedure.

Those who crop regularly are probably taking a lot more photos of a bigger variety of subjects.

i.e. the inverse of the quoted statement is: "People who rarely crop are usually concentrating on getting that "one good shot" and miss many opportunities that other photographers are taking advantage of."
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dalethorn
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« Reply #15 on: May 10, 2009, 05:31:44 PM »
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What really bugs me though, about taking a lot of shots handheld, is not so much losing quality due to rotation/cropping issues, it's when the light or other circumstances are changing and I get several takes of a given scene, then back in the lab after tossing the less-than perfect images, I'm left with two - one has great light but isn't as sharp, and the other vice-versa. Noting a couple of scenes in the LLVJ videos, where the guys are shooting from tripods and "carefully composing", there is nonetheless mention of just missing the ideal frame due to changing light or other things. So carefully composing doesn't always get you what you want.
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bill t.
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« Reply #16 on: May 10, 2009, 06:17:00 PM »
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Quote from: Geoff Wittig
Last night I took the obligatory photos of my son's prom night preparations. Invariably the only shot where everyone's eyes were open and expressions perfect had something awkward that was best cropped out. Sigh.
A local professional offers a service of cut & pasted "perfect" composite group photos of that type.  Put the camera on a tripod, shoot a few dozen more or less random frames, fix it in post.  Not exactly cropping, but of the same unconfident ilk.

Some pros are doing group photos where people come to the studio either singly or in small groups, then are shot against a green cyc to be later assembled into a larger group through the magic of PS.  Makes it possible to do truly no-account tricks like having the whole group knees-bent in the middle of a jump.  Grand Canyon background costs extra.  Hey, it's a living.
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bill t.
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« Reply #17 on: May 10, 2009, 06:52:13 PM »
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Quote from: dalethorn
Those who crop regularly are probably taking a lot more photos of a bigger variety of subjects.
Perhaps.  But I think cropping is mostly a symptom of having not learned to view composition through the viewfinder.

Newbies tend to look at parts of the the subject THROUGH the viewfinder, but do not look at the overall composition WITHIN the boundary of the viewfinder.   Best practice is to frame the composition in the viewfinder looking first at the overall frame, then placing the central subject within that in a way that makes compositional sense.  Compositional sense usually means that all the objects in the frame fall into some geometrical arrangement, and that stuff that does not relate to the subject is left out.  But most importantly the photographer needs to "zoom out" his visual perception to include the boundary of the finder.  Seems obvious, but it is usually elusive to the beginner.  The most mysterious aspect of cropping is that anybody can crop reasonably well in post, but very few can do it in the viewfinder, under pressure.

And as for hand holding landscapes, that is the source of its own well deserved punishments!  Good grief, hand holding landscapes, what's next.    A person trying to shoot landscapes in light bright enough for hand holding misunderstand landscapes.  Nature wants you to shoot landscapes at f8 at 1/4 second or slower in the last exquisite instants of magic hour, with a tripod.  Everybody should know that, it does not require further explanation.
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k bennett
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« Reply #18 on: May 10, 2009, 07:14:11 PM »
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Does anyone else recall that Hasselblad used to advertise their square format cameras specifically for cropping after the fact? -- Shoot square, then crop out a vertical for the cover, or a horizontal for the inside spread. Infinite flexibility. Here's a quote from a 1993 NYT article:

"Ernst Wildi, technical director of Hasselblad in the United States, is a champion of the square format. He says 120 roll film gives a photographer more film area for higher-quality results than 35-millimeter and allows one to shift easily -- with a little cropping -- to making either vertical or horizontal pictures from the square format. He likes to point out that internationally known photographers like Mary Ellen Mark and Greg Heisler are Hasselblad users."

Not many beginners using 'Blads back then. I used the Bronica SQ-A, great camera.

I can understand -- sort of -- this bias against cropping if we're talking about landscape or architectural photography. Camera, tripod, locked down, with a careful and almost obsessive attention to every detail. And this is The Luminous Landscape, and many members shoot that sort of work.

But I find it laughable that so many responses here basically say the same thing: that anyone who crops is by definition a bad or beginning photographer. Tell that to old Ernst, why don't you....
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RSL
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« Reply #19 on: May 10, 2009, 08:45:07 PM »
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Quote from: dalethorn
Those who crop regularly are probably taking a lot more photos of a bigger variety of subjects.

i.e. the inverse of the quoted statement is: "People who rarely crop are usually concentrating on getting that "one good shot" and miss many opportunities that other photographers are taking advantage of."

Dale, Those who are capable of framing what they actually want in their pictures are just as likely to shoot a series of shots as those who aren't quite sure what they want and keep banging away, hoping something worthwhile will turn up. That's exactly why, when he was evaluating the work of people who wanted to join Magnum, Cartier-Bresson always looked at contact sheets instead of individual prints. Contact sheets told him whether or not the photographer had a clear idea of what he was after. He and Magnum weren't interested in people who tried to make things work out from a fuzzy approach after the fact.
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