Why and How We Crop

How to crop (or not) to tell a particular story, emphasize the subject, and much more

Cropping in Photography

We often hear the advice to crop in camera. That’s good, solid advice. That said, sometimes we have no choice but to crop in post.

The question is: why do we crop in the first place and role does cropping, in general, have when telling the visual story?

Cropping is part of composing the image. When we crop in camera, as well as when we use selective focus (in camera), rule of thirds and others, we try to best compose the image to emphasize the subject.

In general, we crop to tell a particular story in a particular way, to eliminate distractions, to emphasize a certain mood, look, etc. We crop to capture a detail or an overall scene, depending on the story.

Preparing and having the image we want to photograph in our mind, helps us better compose and crop in camera. That said, sometimes we have no choice but to crop in post.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Here’s an image of the Manhattan skyline silhouetted by the the first light of the day as captured with my 28-300mm Nikon lens, zoomed out at 28mm:

NYC skyline at sunrise.

First Light. Sunrise light silhouettes Manhattan skyline. Photo ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s a pano image (cropped in post) of that image posted above:

Sunrise light silhouettes Manhattan skyline. Photo ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

First Light Pano. Sunrise light silhouettes Manhattan skyline. Photo ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

There’s not much of a difference between the two images, but the pano crop can be a best fit, without additional cropping or adjustments, when using it as part of a timeline image or the like. By including less sky and more city skyline, it helps emphasize the subject.

Sometimes the crop is more drastic, like in the close-up image posted below. Here’s a detail from the skyline image (above), captured with the same Nikon 28-300mm lens zoomed in to 300mm. The above image offers an overall view of the skyline, while the image posted below takes the eye up close and personal, offering specific details.

Sunrise light silhouettes Manhattan skyline. A closer look. Photo ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

“First Light” Sunrise light silhouettes Manhattan skyline. A closer look. Photo ©Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Sometimes the crop is more drastic, other times it’s much more subtle. Sometimes, as previously mentioned, we crop to emphasize a certain element in the image. Here’s an image of Times Square on the night of NYC Pride 2018. The bright lights are a symbol of Times Square. The bright billboard lights really grab the attention, because they are so very bright. That would work, if the image were to focus on Times Square and not necessarily on NYC Pride.

Pride Night in Midtown Manhattan. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

“Bright Pride 2018 Lights. Big (NY) City.” Pride Night fireworks in Midtown Manhattan. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

To make the image more about NYC Pride and the fireworks display celebrating Pride, I thought to crop out the bright billboard lights, to try to emphasize not Times Square at night, but rather Times Square on the NYC Pride night–antennas displaying the rainbow flag and the fireworks. Here’s the image above, slightly cropped to eliminate the bright light:

Pride Night in Midtown Manhattan. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

“Bright Pride 2018 Night. Big (NY) City.” Pride Night in Midtown Manhattan. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

Those are only a few examples of how cropping can help tell a story, enhance a subject, emphasize certain details, guide the eye, and so on. With that in mind, we can crop any image, be that when photographing cities, nature or people.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

 

 

  1. Gloria Messer July 11, 2018 at 1:10 am

    Alina, love the photos and the article. You are a great teacher.
    xxo goo

    Like

    Reply

    1. Hi Gloria, Appreciate your note. It means so much to me. Glad you liked it. Thank you!

      Like

      Reply

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