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The convenience of cropping

Cropping can make us lazy.

Now I’m not saying that I never crop, far from it, but resorting to crop on a regular basis can give us an excuse for not composing our shots in the first place. For not thinking. For not moving our feet. A different angle, a different height, a different distance – all of these have as much impact on our image as the technical settings.

“There is no better time to crop a bad composition than just before you press the shutter release.”

Bryan Peterson

Not exciting photos, but huge difference in appearance for stepping away.
I have cropped in the middle so that you can easily compare 1 and 2.

Of course, life and photography are never that straightforward. How many times am I out without the “right lens”?
The woodpecker needs my 400mm, not my 16-35! Or the blue tit needs a 600mm and I don’t own one, let alone carry one.
Or there might be something uncrossable in the way – rivers and ravines usually deter me.
So, yes, the crop tool comes in very handy, though jettisoning all those pixels is painful, and if I go really heavy-handed with the crop, there’ll only be a small print or screen display left at the end of the edit.

Two very tight crops:

Of the 42.4 megapixels I started with, the butterfly crop has only 9.3 megapixels left, and the vole has only 2.7 megapixels. The image below shows the tight / mad vole crop.

But with wildlife, and the need to not disturb, my only option was a longer lens, and I only had my 90mm prime with me. Even with the sever crops I could get a decent A4 out of the butterfly pixels, but only a postcard for the vole.

Another good reason for cropping is to change the aspect of the image. The standard aspect for my camera is 2×3, but I do a lot of cropping to 1×1 (especially for Becky’s Square challenges) and 16×9 (an aspect I love, especially for landscapes). Occasionally I go 4×5. I often know that’s what I want when taking the image and will have composed with that in mind, but sometimes it is a decision I take in edit. Some of you will have the option of setting different aspects on your camera, which is very handy as you can see the frame within which you are composing rather than guessing.

The only option I can select other than 2×3 is 16×9, and I have it on my personal menu so that I can flick to it easily. I always shoot in raw, so although I compose the shot in the way I want, the raw image is still a 2×3, so I can easily change my mind later. When I import into Lightroom the image I see is 16×9, but clicking the crop tool reveals the raw truth:

Having the same option for setting 1×1 is the main thing I would like added to my Sony.

You can tell from my ramblings so far, that I like to avoid the need to crop, but there are certain occasions that I deliberately shoot a little wider, knowing that I want to crop. The main reason for this is architecture, especially tall buildings, where the lines converge and sometimes distort.

Sometimes, I love that:

Hong Kong

But often, I want the lines to be truly perpendicular.


Auto or Full Transform in Lightroom will usually do the straightening job well, but you lose the edges of the image. So if I know that’s what I want, I shoot wide.
You can see below that I didn’t shoot wide enough, though, and after editing and cropping I lost part of the tree.

The converging lines issue is hard to overcome without some straightening and cropping, as the only solution is having your camera at the same height so that the sensor can be parallel with the subject. Camera on a tall pole is a possibility, and I’ve often wished I had a helper who would love to carry a stepladder for me. On a more serious note, it is always worth looking for access to, say, a window or terrace in a building opposite.
Or using a tilt shift lens – an expensive option unless you do a lot of this type of photography, but I have hired one a couple of times.

Here is an image I particularly like and it didn’t require straightening …

Hong Kong

… I was able to walk up a hill to a temple opposite.
This shot only needed the slightest of crops, just to get the left hand edge to go through the windows in the same relative position as the right hand edge. I chopped just 35 pixel width off the left.

And I never take just one image. I zoomed in for another shot, to get this closer look at the washing!

Again, I did crop a bit to get the precise edges that I wanted – hard to be that accurate at 300mm handheld.

Ask me to talk about photography and I’ll go on forever, but that really is enough for now!

Happy (minimal) cropping to you all!


Copyright Debbie Smyth,  15 May 2020

Posted as part of Lens-Artists and Patti’s theme of cropping

34 replies »

  1. Hi Deb- what a fantastic post – and the time you put into this is a gift – helpful resource and more of “you”
    really enjoyed it

    also – sorry I have not been doing the one word challenge – had to change things up – you know how it is – but glad it is going well and hope you are staying healthy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree with all of your suggestions Deb. One of my favorite expressions is the “sneaker crop”, moving closer to the subject 😀. But as you say, often that is not possible and yes often difficult with architecture. Well done as always

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your take on cropping. True we get lazy when we take the shot. I find that I hold on to both versions. And then some ..if I like the picture. I’m not a photographer and your post has made me think before I click.


    • Thanks John. Yes, quite a contrast in this post!. Not intentional, they were just the examples that popped into my head. I loved the butterfly image too – I just wasn’t ready to get the perfect shot and it flew as the lens approached! I walk that way most evenings hoping that one will return.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love what you do, but I’m glad that I don’t, or can’t, do it, Debs. I go glassy-eyed at the mention of pixels. 🙂 🙂 I think we’ve agreed, I’m a story teller. Not a photographer.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was a nice read. I think you are right, knowing you will crop might make one lazy. I still love it, but so much respect for those who look for the shot instead of the crop . So well written, Debbie

    Liked by 1 person

  6. To crop or not to crop, that is the question. You answered all side of it brilliantly. I love your Hong Kong shot, although it makes me very, very happy NOT to be living in one of those buildings or even surrounded by them!


    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you thought I was even-handed in my wordy post, Janet.
      I love Hong Kong and would very happily visit again, but I can’t imagine living in a city like that. There is so little personal space.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I really enjoyed this post. Lots of useful ideas you have shared from your considerable experience. I do tend to crop quite a bit my excuse is that most of the time my subjects are horses and they are moving and I cannot always get the positioning exactly as I want. I do have a 600mm lens and it is not possible for me to hold it to shoot and so I have it on a monopod and carry it around over my shoulder. Are you old enough to know who David Lean was? He directed Lawrence of Arabia and Dr.Zhivago etc. He started out as a film editor . He would shoot already knowing exactly what he wanted in the shot from an editing point of view. Not only the master shot but the close ups and pov shots. There are some famous examples of this in those two films. It made the editors lives much easier.


  8. That’s such an interesting exposition. I already knew that I am a ‘snapshotist’ rather than a photographer, because while this really is fascinating stuff, I know I haven’t got the patience to do the things you describe, or the technical know-how. And I went on a photography course once. The technical stuff drove me nuts, and I left before week three. So while I do learn from brilliant photographers like you, I limit myself by not going the full mile. My loss.

    Liked by 2 people

    • No loss- depends what you want from it. I do a huge mix, to be honest – snaps for memories, somewhere a bit more careful for telling stories and illustrating blog articles, and attempts at great shots for my pleasure and prints and competitions, and my camera obsession! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I started reading this and then I realised I will only do your text justice if I have time and leisure to really think along. So I’m keeping this for my next concentrated cup of coffee!

    Liked by 5 people

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