To Crop Or Not To Crop – That Is The Question

I continue to be amazed at the myths surrounding cropping. This should have been long settled. There is no contest award for those who do NOT crop and generally, there’s not much penalty (if any) to making the decision to crop. All modern cameras costing $500 or more offer a sensor that allows cropping up to 50%. If you have a 20 megapixel sensor or larger, you can do so with impunity.

I often crop to create the image I saw in my mind. Some people crop to fit frame sizes. Some crop to fit a particular design.

Whatever your reason, if you want to crop – go ahead and crop.

I’ve got some random thoughts on cropping and I would love to share them with you.

PRINTING

If you’re going to make prints, you can easily print 11×14″ prints (at 200 DPI) even if you crop 50% off a 20MP image. If you want to print bigger, then all you have to do is find a printer who uses a RIP (Raster Image Processor.) Even a software RIP can bring you prints that are 20×30″ from a 50% crop on a 20MP sensor. If you’re using a hardware RIP – you can go double that size.

I rarely need to crop more than 20-30% and I print even larger than described above.

In short, 20MP or more? You can crop up to 50% and still make a rather large print.

ONLINE

If you’re just showing your photos online, then all you need is 2048 pixels on the longest side. I have seen people crop 70% and still make images that look good on Facebook. It’s really up to you. If you need to crop to get your artistic vision online, go for it. It will usually look great.

WHY CROP?

You should crop for creative reasons that run the gamut between reframing your subject, better drawing attention to your subject, removing unwanted items from the background, or to create negative space.

CROP SIZES

Some people are slaves to standard print sizes such as 8×10″ – 11×14″ 16×20″ etc. If you are stuck with standard frame sizes, this makes sense, although there is an alternative. You can crop in any format and just order a larger, custom matte (usually very affordable) and then place it in a standard frame size. If you have the budget for custom frames, all of this is moot. We’re long past the days where a photo’s worthiness is judged by its conventional crop. Don’t be that photographer who judges pictures this way. It’s frankly, lame.

You should always crop more for creative reasons than being a slave to convention.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Owl Before Crop

MY FAVORITE CROP CHOICES

I started my career using Hasselblad 500 series medium format cameras. They were square formatted affairs and I just got used to using square compositions. These days, Instagram likes square images so if that is your thing, square format can be cool. I prefer it merely from a compositional point of view, because it helps frame the subject.

I also like cropping 16×9 because that matches video formats and many of my images end up on video.

Pick your poison here – there is no wrong or right way.

Barred Owl Photograph by Scott Bourne
Owl After Crop

GENERAL TIPS & WRAPPING UP

1. Crop if you want to and the critics be damned
2. Use cropping to tell your story or the subject’s story
3. Avoid cropping to center your subject unless it’s a creative and deliberate choice
4. Crop out distractions
5. Don’t crop too tightly – leave a little “headroom” around your subject
6. If you crop – do it deliberately not haphazardly
7. Generally, unless you’re trying to get rid of a gray sky, don’t crop out the horizon
8. Crop tightly to create intimacy
9. Cropping in camera is always better than cropping in post


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