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Cropping changes photographs more than you may think

November 04, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

In some photography circles cropping is a no-no. Some photographers take the view that a photo is made in the camera and it's the whole frame or nothing. I understand Henri Cartier-Bresson didn't crop, or maybe that's just photography folk law. 

Those of you who've read my blog know I passionately believe photographs are made in the camera, not in PhotoShop, but I'm no purist. In much the same way that Ansel Adams would meticulously work with light, shadow and contrast in his images to achieve the effect he wanted in the mind of the viewer, I (without his talent, skill or dedication) will work my images with cropping and manipulation of exposure and contrast to get the results I'm looking for. It's a tradition going back to the very beginnings of photography.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from our Parisian hotel room.The view of the Eiffel Tower from our Parisian hotel room. Why, I hear you ask, am I writing this? Well, a few weeks back my wife and I were in Paris. (Yes, I know. It's a hard life, but someone has to do it.) Our room even had a view of the Eiffel Tower!

While in our typically tiny Parisian hotel room, I spent a fair amount of time looking out our window. We were literally 50 metres from a train station - which isn't as bad as it sounds, by the way. The elevated train ran on rubber tyres and of course, the Métro is underground, so no noise from there. Anyway - the station, the intersection and the local restaurants meant there were a lot of people, and they were interesting to watch (even if I failed to get a single interesting photograph of the street scene).

So, I was looking out the window and saw that the low angled light was casting interesting shadows on the wrought ironwork outside the apartments opposite, and  naturally, I made some photographs.

The result is shown below.

Quite nice, but I felt that the partial windows on the floor below were a bit of a distraction, so I cropped the image - also shown below.

 

 

 

 

Full frame of my image of shadows in Paris.
Paris shadowsFull frame of my image of shadows in Paris.

 

The result, I was surprised to discover was a dramatically different photograph - in my opinion at least.

Cropped version of my Paris shadows in Photograph.
Paris shadows. Cropped version of my Paris shadows in Photograph.

The first photograph is about those shadows, with the roofs above in a darker part of the image. The second cropped image became a photograph of those roofs and that collection of chimney pots, with the shadows also there for those who looked at the image longer.

Yes, I know this is all terribly subjective, but assuming you share my perception, I guess the next question is: why? I suspect it's more complicated than one factor, but I think that part of the reason is our old friend, the "rule" of thirds.

This is the cropped image with vertical and horizontal "rule" lines included:

Cropped image shows "rule of thirds" lines. You will see that the roof and chimney pots are crossed by the upper horizontal line, whereas the lower line barely touches the shadows. In contrast, the full image looks thus:

Full image with "rule of thirds" lines

In the second image, the lower line lies across the ironwork, which incidentally is also the lightest part of the image. It's not surprising therefore that our eyes are down there. By contrast, the upper horizontal line skirts the roof ridge - which is in the darkest part of the image.

Ok, so what's the take away from this? It's this: in much the same way that zooming your lens does much more than just making something seem closer (or further away), cropping does more than just removing unwanted pixels. By changing the proportions of the image, we can change the subject of the image.

It's worth reviewing a cropped image before finalising it to ensure you haven't changed the nature of the image. Conversely, if you're using the whole frame, maybe a crop is what's needed to make an average shot better. (Just make sure that if you are cropping, you do it non-destructively so you can revert if the result isn't what was intended.)

Have fun.

Shane

 


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