Article by Ron Brinkmann

One of the quickest and easiest things you can do to improve a photo is to selectively crop it. The world (and the subject that you are photographing) doesn’t restrict itself to living inside a particular aspect ratio, so don’t restrict yourself either! I’ll spend a lot of time in my photo-editing tool massaging color-corrections and noise reductions and sharpening parameters… they’re very subjective and very subtle. But I find that often I can whip through dozens of photos doing quick minor crops in far less time than it takes me to color-tweak a single image.

Take a look at the nicely-framed shot at the top of this post. (We’ve had entirely too many bird-photos posted… time for puppies!)


Now compare that to the original image. The straight-out-of-camera shot has an ugly glare-spot on the hardwood floor, a few bits of extra puppy-parts intruding in the frame in the upper-right corner… it’s really not a nice or memorable shot. Cropping is good.

It’s important to keep cropping in mind throughout the picture-taking process. It’s not just something you deal with in postproduction, you need to be aware of it while you’re shooting photos as well. I’ve had many situations in the field where I zoomed-in in order to exclude some extraneous pole/tree/wire/person that was on the edge of frame but as a result I ended up closer to the subject than I really wanted to be. Had I just left the subject in the frame the way I wanted it and shaved off a few pixels on the side of the frame later, I would have had a much better photo.

When in doubt, I try to err on the side of framing things too wide, knowing that (with today’s modern cameras) I’ve usually got wayyy more resolution than I need… and a fair bit of cropping won’t be at all problematic. It’s also a really useful thing when you’re trying to get a photo of some hard-to-control subject (like a puppy) – take a step back a little bit or zoom out a little bit and you’ll have a much better chance of getting the shot you want without having the subject cutting across the edge of the frame.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I agree with everything Ron says except too many bird photos. You can never have too many bird photos :)

This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Nice article. I agree that you generally don’t have to restrict yourself to any one aspect ratio. That said, you can run into problems when printing and framing photos that have a non-standard aspect ratio.

    That is why I purchased a matte cutter many years ago. It was about $100 and it quickly paid for itself many times over. I now purchase a large photo frame and some acid free matte paper from the art supply store. I print the photo into any size or shape (aspect ratio) that I want and I custom cut the matte to fit the photo. This is pretty easy to do and quite satisfying to see your photos on the wall in a custom frame.

    Another tip is to get picture frames from the thrift store. Sometimes you can find a bad piece of art which you can discard and keep the frame. They are only a few dollars and for some more money you can get a piece of glass cut to the fit the frame. For under $10 I have made some impressive frames for my large prints.

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