How I Do It: To Crop, or Not to Crop

by | Jun 2, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

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

Q: After capturing an image, how much cropping do you do?

A: I don’t often crop an image, preferring to do it in the camera’s viewfinder but—and this is new for me—I crop in Photoshop more than I previously did.

My aversion to cropping stems from all the time I spent shooting film, especially slides, and maybe for too long I considered considered the 3:2 rectangle as sacred. It’s still my default shooting crop with my mirrorless cameras, not the 4:3 that is “standard.” I’m gradually getting over that kind of thinking too. But sometimes this idea can be carried to extremes, I think, as evidenced by the SOOC movement, not as Seinfeld once said, not that there’s anything wrong with it.”

My original philosophy about cropping was influenced by the late Leon Kennamer, who once told me to “get it on the negative.” By that I think he meant that the image on the film would represent the photograph that you delivered to the client to hang on the wall.

How I made this shot: You don’t often get to make a vertical photograph at Cars and Coffee but that’s how I captured this AMC Javelin parked in front of the Vehicle Vault building. Camera used was my redoubtable Lumix GX1 with an Olympus M.17mm f/2.8 lens with a Program mode exposure of 1/4000 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 320. This image is shown uncropped because I liked what I saw in the LVF2 external viewfinder when I clicked the shutter.

I carried the “crop not, lest you be judged” philosophy over to how I shoot digital images 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 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 like the 16:9 ratio and will sometimes crop a photograph, especially landscapes, using that format.

But not everybody agrees with me about my approach to cropping: Two of my friends, who are outstanding portrait photographers, crop their subjects very loosely in-camera often capturing edges of the background, lightstand and sometimes even a studio light within 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 DSLR was the 6.3 megapixels Canon EOS D60 (not 60D) and to maintain the best image quality I didn’t have any pixels to waste, so 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. The Lumix GX1 that I used to shoot the above image is 16 MP. Please realize that I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t crop, just think about the image quality you’re tossing in the bit bucket when you do. 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.