Take Your Photos from Good to Great: Cropping
Do you know what makes a great photo?
Most great photos just don’t happen and usually require planning & editing. I’ll be discussing the latter in this post and in particular, cropping & how you can use it to improve your photos.
Snip, Snip, Snip!
Cropping is the removal of outer sections of an image. It is one of the most used basic image editing functions and is featured in all photo editing software. Different crop shapes are even available; the most common are rectangle, square, circle and ellipse.
Are you ready to wow with your awesome pics? Make your good photos great using cropping to achieve the following qualities.
- Give your photo a clear subject. Your photo needs focus for the most impact. If your photo is busy and lacking a subject, people will be easily distracted by the clutter. Crop to highlight the photo’s most important element.
- Show off your subject. Your subject should fill a large percentage of the photo. Cropping to the bounds of your subject zooms in on it. The story is in the details, so bring it! Crop to bring out the details of your subject.
- Frame your subject. Frames add interest and help lead the eye to the subject. They are typically a foreground object that “surrounds” the subject like tree branches, flowers, vines, etc. Pictures of buildings and landmarks especially benefit from these types of frames. Frames can make a bland building photo pop. Crop to add an interesting frame to the subject.
- Be creative and break out of the box. Sometimes the best way to stand out is just to be different. Rectangular photo sizes are ubiquitous, and changing the shape of a photo may help get your photo noticed. Seek Eye Publishing offers an app for the iPhone called StensaShare that offers cropping with a variety of shapes including hearts, plants and animals. If you want to stick to a more traditional shape, Scott Kelby suggests that cropping to a simple square looks artistic and is enough to be set apart. Crop to a non-rectangular shape to stand out.
- Improve photo composition by using the rule of thirds. People’s eyes do not naturally gravitate toward the center of a photo but to points slightly off center. These points are the intersections of two vertically & two horizontally equally spaced lines. So for a shot that feels interesting and balanced, your primary subject should be located close to or at one or more of these intersections. Voila! You have the rule of thirds. Crop using the rule of thirds for a well balanced, interesting photo.
- Achieve the size ratio desired for printing or projects. Most cameras capture photographs in a 3:2 ratio. So the photo’s width is 1.5 times it’s height. A 4×6 print is common since it is already this ratio. But how about if you want 5×7 or 8×10? You’d have to either add padding to the photo or crop, and typically a crop looks nicer than a border. Crop to the ratio you need for eye pleasing prints.
Before You Get Too Scissor Happy ….
Nothing in life comes for free and cropping is no exception. Cropping has costs so keep the following points in mind when you are whacking away pixels.
- Cropping leads to a reduction in image size. This is an issue if you need the image to be a minimum size such as for printing. The image cannot be resized up to compensate, as the result will appear pixelated.
- The cropped result can look blurry or unsharp. It depends on how small the subject was in the photo, and if it was in focus.
- Cropping can be destructive to your original photo. So always work on a copy. However, not all photo editing software modifies the original. For example, Adobe Lightroom leaves the original image file untouched.
For these reasons, when possible, overall photo composition should be done on camera – given thought and executed at the time of the shot. But cropping is a life saver when a photo needs that extra something. Most professionals use it to some degree, and it is also a great learning tool. Crop without abandon, experiment! Eventually you will gain a second sense about what works and what doesn’t and create some great photos in the process. Have fun!