Thursday, July 10, 2008

Extreme Cropping

A Wish

One of the most common pieces of advice that new photographers are given is to get your framing correct when you take your photograph. This saves you having to "reframe" or crop a shot afterwards to take distracting elements out. However, there are times when you might not want to do that, or even can't get the framing the way you envision the photograph. Sometimes you get the framing right at the time, but you see other possible compositions within the photograph that you have taken.

This is when you may be tempted to use an "extreme" crop. By that I mean one that has an unusual composition and/or aspect ratio. We tend to think or conceive of our images in standard aspect ratios like 4"x6", 5"x7", 8"x10", and so on. Are those the only allowable aspect ratios? No of course not, but they certainly are the most convenient if we want to eventually frame our photographs.

More after the jump.

When should we feel free to change our framing in post processing even to the extent of breaking conventional aspect ratios? Well, I think the answer is anytime that we feel that we can get a stronger image. Breaking conventions is something that artists have been doing for centuries. Before they can do that however, they learn what those conventions are, why they exist, what their strengths are, and what their weaknesses are. When the image we envision would be weakened by conventional framing, cropping, or aspect ratios, then we should feel free to stretch into other framing formats.

That was the case with the photograph at the beginning of this post, A Wish. This was a penny that my son had thrown into a fountain. I wanted to capture it, but when I looked at the original image it wasn't quite what I thought would be a strong image. Given the location and arrangement of the fountain, I didn't think that I could really get a correct framing at the time of photographing it. So, I framed it in such a way that I would have plenty of latitude to consider other framing or cropping options later. Here is the original image:

A Wish (original)

It is a nice enough photograph, but I don't think that it has quite the same impact as the cropped version at the beginning. This one is also straight from the camera, so no levels & curves or exposure work had been done to it yet.

What I wanted to convey was this penny's ripples stretching out to affect events after the wish was made. The sharp angles of the ripples make them fade to the edges of the frame quickly and the depth of the water slightly obscures the penny and thus affects the ripples' quality. By cropping the photograph in such an extreme manner, I brought the attention back to the penny and it's ripples. With the ripples leading out of the frame to hint at the Wish's influence rippling through space. Or at least that is how I view the image. ;-)

Study and learn composition. There are reasons that certain ways of arranging image elements work, and others don't. Also, don't be afraid to break those rules if it makes a better image. Rules work. Breaking the rules can work if you do it for a reason. Ignoring the rules due to laziness doesn't help create a good composition.

Another time when you might want to make an extreme crop is with landscapes. Doing so can give a panoramic effect without taking a true panoramic photograph. You might not have the time to set up a tripod, but you can still get the effect of a panoramic image0

Also, you might want to use a portion of an image as a texture filter for another image. In that case, crop the texture you want to use.

Vignettes are a kind of "virtual" cropping that focuses attention to a particular area of a photograph while retaining a convenient aspect ratio for framing.

Try it out on some photographs. You might find some pictures with-in a picture that are just as strong or stronger than the full image.


Dorky Musician said...

I must have forgotten to comment earlier. At first, I didn't care for the crop, but when you explained in your post what you were going for, it all made sense. Thanks for reminding me that I don't have to go with the normal, though I do usually prefer to crop my photos at the same aspect ratio my camera takes them in. I don't know why. I'll have to break out of that.

Craig Lee said...

Thinking outside of the box is part of the game. It helps to stretch our creative muscles as it were.