Digital Q&A: Crop or Not Crop

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

To Crop, or not to Crop, that is the question”—I think Shakespeare said that.

Q: How much cropping do you do to an image after capture?

A: I seldom crop an image, preferring to do it in camera but, and this is a new thought to me, I do crop later in Photoshop more than I previously did.

My aversion to cropping may be because I grew up with film, especially slides, and too long considered considered the 3:2 rectangle as sacred and it’s still my default shooting crop with my mirrorless cameras, not 4:3. But I’m gradually getting over that kind of thinking. My original philosophy about cropping was influenced by the late Leon Kennamer, who once told me — “get it on the negative.” I think he meant that the image on the film would represent the photograph you delivered to the client or hung on the wall. Sometimes this idea can be carried to extremes as evidenced by the SOOC movement that Mark has previously written about, not as Seinfeld once said, not that there’s anything wrong with it.”

I carried the “crop not, lest you be judged” philosophy over to how I shoot digitally although I would make  allowances for trimming edges for unexpected surprises that were missed when making the shot. But I seem to be getting over this rigid approach. One of the features I like about Photoshop CS6 (and later) is that the Crop tool gives you the option of maintaining the original image’s aspect ratio or use a bunch of others. Because it reminds me of the movies, I really like the 16:9 ratio and will sometimes crop a photograph, especially landscapes, like that but more often than not, I’ll shoot the photograph in that ratio since most cameras these days offer that option.

crop.boxBut not everybody agrees with me: Two of my friends, who happen to be outstanding portrait photographers, crop their subjects very loosely in-camera often capturing edges of the background, lightstand and sometimes even the studio light itself is in the frame, before cropping the final image into a shape that may or may not have any relationship to that of the original file.

My first digital SLR was a 6.3 megapixels and I didn’t have any pixels to waste so in order to maintain the best image quality I didn’t like to crop. Even today with a massive megapixel race going on, Micro Four-thirds cameras seem stuck at a maximum of 20MP. Please realize that I’m not suggesting that you don’t crop, just think about the image quality you’re tossing in the bit bucket. As my friend Rick Sammon always says, “The Name of the Game is Fill the Frame.” I think that’s good advice but like everything else on this blog—it’s something to think about, not something that’s cast in concrete.

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For another approach to creative inspiration, pick up a copy my friend Rick Sammon’s book Creative Visualization for Photographers, which is available from Amazon and all of the usual suspects.