Cropping your images

Man On Cliff

Professional Photographer and author, Steve Davey offers some tips on how to make your images better. The images used here are taken from the Travel Competition for which Steve was a judge. The winning images can be seen here


One of the things that struck me about a number of the images submitted, was that the cropping had let them down. There was a picture there, but the photographer had missed it – either at the picture-taking stage, or at the post-processing stage.

The best time to correctly crop a picture is when you take it! This can be done by using a stronger telephoto lens or zooming in if you have a zoom lens. If you can't do this, then you can just move closer. The advantages of getting the picture right in camera is that you can avoid time in front of a computer, and also you will benefit from the full resolution of your camera. If you crop out 30% of a picture taken with a 12MP camera, then yu are effectively only using 8MP!

Cropping on a computer will result in a smaller image, but if you make it a better image then it is often worthwhile. There are some purists who think that cropping on the computer is somehow cheating, yet I don't see why an amateur photographer who only has a 70-200mm lens should be penalised just because they can't afford a 400mm lens! They should still be able to produce frame filling shots with impact – especially if they have managed to capture a perfect moment.

Cropping, whether it is in camera or on a computer is a vital part of the creative photographic process. I have pulled out a couple of the entrant that I thought would benefit from some cropping: see if you agree!

The following images are in order above.

On the Summit / Canada / Nikon D200 / Taken by Abo

Compositionally it is a shame that the horizon passes through the man's head, but there is nothing that can be done about that now. The sky is quite bland, and the area on the left of the picture doesn't help the composition at all. By cropping into the sky and the left hand side, more emphasis is given to the drop and the man looks more precariously balanced.

The Trunk Road / Tamil Nadu / Nikon D200 / Taken by Nicon

With a more powerful lens, the photographer would have been able to crop in a lot closer, making this a more dramatic picture.

Fishing Ko Lipe / Thailand / Nikon FM2 / Taken by beejoir

The sky is fantastic on this shot, the sea less so. I would have tried to move closer to get a better crop, and still have the wideangle distortion on the shot, rather than using a more telephoto setting. Cropping out some of the dead area to the left and also some of the sea give a more dynamic composition.

Just Chiling / Maldives / Nikon D80 / Taken by godziu

It can be hard to get the horizon straight on a sea image, but this should be straightened up. I would also get closer to the woman, shooting from so far back means that the picture lacks a a point of focus. The sea is great in this shot, the sky less so. I would crop out a lot of the sky. The picture would have been better if the photographer had shot from a slightly higher angle - even by standing on tip-toes to get the top of the head further away from the horizon.

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  1. Great points made Steve! I think with the digital age photographers are loosing sight of how to take a great image vs. trying to make an image great in post production. As photographers we need to ask ourselves "what can I do to make this image better?" Whether it is to use a different filter(or use one), move our position, different lens, maybe a different time of day. Making it right in camera is is much easier than "how can I fix this in post."

    Comment made by: TerraDesign
    03.06.09 20:24:27

  2. One proviso I'd add with the issue of zooming in: my niece has a screen-only point and shoot, and I advised her to not get carried away zooming in, because with a hand-held point and shoot, lens shake is exacerbated, and if she skips the digital zoom, and just frames it as best she can with what she has, basic post-production could be her best bet for the crop and layout of the picture.

    Comment made by: timlennon
    11.06.09 22:26:35

  3. TerraDesign - yes, I believe it is better to get it right in camera, but post-production is an important tool - especially if you can't afford a telephoto lens!

    And keen eyed readers might have notice that the last example shows the 'after' picture twice! Will try to get that sorted!


    Comment made by: stevedavey
    12.06.09 18:40:53

  4. Thanks for the tips..For a novice/beginner like me this really helps.


    Comment made by: xclairx
    17.06.09 16:43:49

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