About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cropping, In Photography, Less is Often More


A Few Thoughts on Cropping
One of the most important attributes that separates a fine art image from a snap shot is its composition. A photograph of even a
mediocre setting can achieve a level of strength and immediacy when composed with balance and a flow which draws the eye to the subject without distraction or clutter. There are many compositional rules can be of help in arranging a powerful composition, including the rule of thirds, use of diagonals and head room, but one of the simplest and most effective methods to add power and focus to an image is with cropping. Cropping may be performed in the camera or in post-processing.  I tend to crop aggressively, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind about the benefits and risks of the cut and slashing.  An important concern is to avoid cutting too far.



In Camera

One of the most obvious signs of a snap-shot is when the subject is

Move in and Arrange Head Room
only a small portion of the image, usually dead center and surrounded by distracting and superfluous material. It is often helpful to start with a broad image which establishes the location, but from then on the mantra should be "move in, move in". Whether you move in with your feet or with your zoom lens the goal is to fill the image with your subject. As you zoom what you are actually doing is cropping out extraneous stuff that only distracts from the focus of the image. 

Audrey's Trail





 The primary advantage of cropping and composing within the camera is that you are using all the pixels available on your sensor
and getting the maximal resolution for your subject, but it is important to remember that the "subject" is seldom just the "subject'. The "subject" of an image of a beautiful tree may include a stream, rolling hills or perhaps a mountain in the background all arranged to complement and draw the eye to the stately Maple. The art comes from recognizing how your subject best fits within its surroundings and to avoid moving in so close as to eliminate important framing elements. It is appropriate to emphasize the advantages of zooming in, but it is also important to remember that the camera frame places restrictions on the picture's proportions that may limit options during the fine tuning of the composition in post-processing. 




The Tyranny of the Viewfinder

The camera viewfinder and sensor imposes a fixed frame around your composition. As you move in you can explore various
arrangements of the important elements within that rectangle, but the problem comes when the best composition doesn’t match the dimensions of the frame. Although precise sizes are quite variable, most digital sensors are about half again as wide as they are tall, that is, most hover around an aspect ratio of 3:2 or 4:3. Specific dimensions vary, but the standard full size digital sensor is 37x24 mm or at a ratio of 3:2 (1.5). Nikon’s APS-H sensor can be 28.7x19mm (1.5), Canon’sAPS-C sensor is 23.6 x 15.7 (~1.6), and the smaller Micro 4/3rds sensors are 17.3x13 (1.33). Tightly composing within my full frame camera works well if the final image is intended to conform to a 3x2 aspect ratio. It will fit perfectly in a 12 x 18" or 4" x 6" print, but an 8" x 10" print has a ratio of 1.25 meaning that at least 17% of the pixels will need to be cropped away from one or both of the sides of the image to fit a landscape oriented 8x10 print. Important parts of the image may be lost if the composition is too tightly framed in the camera. The point is that overly aggressive cropping in the camera can limit final composition options when the image is adjusted in post-processing to fit specific output dimensions. 






It is great to move in to your subject to get the best use of your expensive pixels, but today's camera’s have resolution to spare and we can afford to allow a little buffer to assure that everything of importance will be preserved after the final crop. By all means, crop in the camera, but do it carefully and with an eye toward the options for the final composition



Photoshop can add a Rule of Thirds grid while Cropping
Post-Processing Crop
The capability to crop an image is basic in any photo editing software. As is true in the camera, post-processing cropping is done to fine tune the composition and to eliminate distracting elements along the borders.  It is also used to resize the picture for particular output dimensions. It is unusual to find a raw image that can't be strengthened by careful cropping, but before discussing post-processing cropping, I must mention one important basic rule.  Again it has to do with preserving your options.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador



Before All Else, Do No Harm

Before I start cutting and slashing, I always save a full size version
Rethinking the camera Crop
of the image. Sizing, sharpening and cropping are usually the last things I do when editing an image. They are done to specifically tailor the image for its intended output, whether it is for a 12x16 print, a massive poster or a small web image. I do as much editing on the full size image as possible and then save that file as my baseline source from which all other images are derived. Since any editing that I perform after resizing will need to be repeated on all other output versions, saving a full size, edited version can save a lot of time. Actually, before I reach the point of cropping, sharpening and sizing, I save two versions of my full size image, one as the original raw file directly from the camera and the second including all my basic edits in DNG format. 




Cut and Slash,
Why Do We Crop?
Stated most simply, cropping is the process of controlling what the viewer will see and just as importantly, what he won't see.



Improving Composition
Probably the most important reason to crop an image is to arrange the elements within the frame to highlight and draw attention to the subject. This includes positioning the subject within the frame. Guides such as the Rule of Thirds can help, but often the best guide is your own eye. The use of diagonals and other leading lines can draw the eye to the subject and their strength can be enhance by how they relate to the frame. Cropping can adjust for proper headroom for the subject and move horizon lines away from dead center. At the same time elements which pull the eye away from the subject can be eliminated. 





Removing Edge Distractions

A basic step in editing an image is to scan the edges of the frame
Newfane Courthouse, Clonning Needed
for distractions. Distractions can include a stray rocks or tree branch, but may merely be a splash of unusual light or dark which pulls the eye. Cropping can often removes these peripheral blemishes, but when the cropping required affects the overall balance of the composition cloning may be a better solution. Finding distractions can often be complicated by our own focus on the detail of what we know to be the main subject. Before I finish editing, I will often sit back and squint to blur the image detail. It is surprising how often distractions can be revealed when the image is reduce to abstract patterns of color and light. 





Sizing

Final cropping is usually designed to size the image for the
Not all leading lines are straight
specific output requirements. This often includes adjustments to fit a printed version or web sizing. Changes in image size and resolution can affect sharpness. A final sharpening may be needed before the image is ready to be released to the world.

Cropping is perhaps the most basic tool for creating powerful compositions. It can be painful to cut away our precious pixels, but, in photography, it is important to understand that less is often very much more.




3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Jeff, this is a very helpful post. I always enjoy looking at your work.

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  2. Cropping, composition, sizing are all important factors for doing any type of basic or expert level photography.
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