Cropping your photos usually refers to the process of editing a photo and cutting away one or more edges of the image. There are multiple reasons why you might want to do this, such as improving the composition, enlarging the subject, or simply changing the aspect ratio of the photo.
But some photographers are dead set against cropping, preferring to get it right in-camera. In this article we'll look at both the benefits and problems with cropping an image in software. (Not to be confused with the crop factor of a camera).
How to crop a photo
First, let's look at how to crop a photo. (You can skip ahead to the next section if you already know this).
Most image editing software offers two ways to crop an image, both being pretty similar. The first is the crop tool.
Using the tool you click and drag to create a rectangular (or square) selection around the area of the image that you want to keep. All the image area outside the selection will be removed.
Most software will let you adjust the crop area after dragging an initial selection. Double-clicking on the selection then confirms and applies the crop.
The second method is using a rectangular marquee tool. Using the tool you drag a selection of the area you want to keep.
The next step varies between software, but in the menu you should find a crop to selection item. In Photoshop Elements / CC this is
Image > Crop. The image will then be cropped to the selection you made.
If you intend on cropping an image, I would always recommend on keeping a copy of the original image as well. You might change your mind on the crop later, or want to print at a certain aspect ratio. Having the original that you can re-crop in the future if needs be is always a good idea.
Cropping to improve composition
Cropping can be used to improve the composition of an image quite easily. If you have a subject centrally framed with space all around on them on either side, the image will often look better if you crop it to place the subject off-center. Cropping the image based on the the rule of thirds will usually (but not always!) result in a stronger image.
Now, many photographers would argue that you should be composing your image correctly in-camera. And they are right to a certain extent. You should not allow the ability to crop an image later to make you sloppy when composing an image.
Cropping should not be used as crutch. How can you expect to improve your photography skills if your attitude to anything that needs adjustment is just
I'll fix that later in Photoshop.
You can easily crop in-camera by just zooming in or moving the camera.
However, there are many legitimate reasons for cropping to improve composition too. If you are using a DSLR camera and photographing in tricky conditions (e.g. moving subject or low light), then you might want to center your subject.
The central autofocus points on a DSLR camera are typically more sensitive than ones near the edge. So using the center point can provide more accurate and faster autofocus. The image can then be cropped later to a more pleasing composition.
When tracking a moving object, such as a bird in flight, or a player in a sports game, it can be helpful to have them centered in the frame whatever camera you're using.
Keeping a moving object in the same place in the frame while tracking them is very difficult. Centering them gives more room around them, so you are less likely to cut part of them off at the edge of the frame. The image can then be cropped to the desired composition later.
Another reason for cropping is that there may be a problem with the composition that can't be fixed at the time of taking the shot. For example, if you have unwanted tree branches coming in at the sides or top of the image. You can hardly start cutting the branches away before you take the photo.
Using a longer focal length or moving forward with the camera might fix the problem. But this may not be possible, or it may introduce other problems. The crop tool can remove the branches with ease and no damage done to the trees.
An issue (especially with DSLRs again) is that what you see in the viewfinder is often not the 100% view of what the camera will capture. With DSLRs the view is normally smaller than what is captured. Rangefinder cameras can give a view wider than what will be captured, with frame lines that give a rough estimate of what will be captured.
In both cases you can end up with items near the edge of your frame that you didn't think were going to be included in the frame. Cropping the image may actually be needed to get what you saw in-camera.
Cropping to improve magnification
Along with cropping to improve the composition of a photograph, cropping to enlarge a subject in the frame is a common reason for people cropping their images.
I would suggest that if possible you try and get the magnification of your subject right in-camera. However, the reasons for cropping an image later to increase the subject size tend to be much stronger than the reasons for cropping later to improve composition.
Enlarging larger objects further away
The first reason why you might want to crop later is that you simply might not have been able to get any closer to your subject. In the instance of something far away that you can't get closer to, such as a bird, then a longer focal length lens or a teleconverter can help you get the wanted image in-camera without need for cropping.
A longer lens (for an interchangeable lens camera) lets you get closer shots of a subject. But this comes at a cost - depending on how much magnification you need, these lenses can get very expensive, not to mention big and heavy. Super-telephoto lenses popular with nature and sports photographers will typically cost you around $5,000 - $10,000.
A teleconverter on the other hand, is much cheaper. This just boosts the magnification of your camera by a fixed amount. Typically they are available in 1.4x, 1.7x, and 2x models. If you're thinking of purchasing one, make sure you check that the model you're looking at is compatible with your camera.
Example of two different teleconverters - the one on the left attaches onto the end of the lens and is suitable for cameras that don't have interchangeable lenses. The one on the right is designed for interchangeable lens cameras and attaches between the lens and camera.
The issue with teleconverters is that they do degrade image quality. In some cases, with cheap teleconverters, cropping an image can actually give better quality than using the teleconverter. The lower the teleconverter power, the less likely image quality is to suffer.
With both using a longer lens or adding a teleconverter, the cost may be too much, or they might just not be an option for your camera. So cropping might be your only option.
Getting closer macro and close-up photos
For smaller subjects that you can get close to, you might not be able to get as close as you want. The minimum focus distance of your camera / lens might be too long to let you get any closer.
There are a number of solutions to this that can be used instead of cropping, such as using a diopter close-up lens, extension tubes, bellows, or purchasing a macro lens for an interchangeable lens camera. But all of these cost money, and might not be an option depending on your camera. In which case cropping might be the only way you can enlarge the subject in the image.
A secondary point is that cropping a macro / close-up image of a subject may give exactly the same (or sometimes even better) results than getting the magnification you want in-camera.
The reason for this is that as you move the camera nearer the subject, the shallower the depth of field becomes. So, the closer you get the camera, the smaller the aperture you will need to use to get a decent amount of the subject in focus. And in turn, the more light the camera will need to compensate for the smaller aperture setting.
Image taken further away from subject, then cropped. Note the larger depth of field - the nose is now in focus and the bird's tail is in better focus too. Less flash power was used since the lens was not using as much internal extension (which introduces light loss) needed for focusing closely.
Along with this, diffraction starts to take its toll. This is the blurring of fine detail that occurs beyond certain apertures - the exact limit is dependent on your camera sensor. So getting closer may result in exactly the same image quality as you would get if you cropped the image.
The image quality by getting the camera close to the subject may actually be worse than cropping if you have to use a high ISO or slow shutter speed on an animate object due to using a smaller aperture.
Cropping to change the image's aspect ratio
There are two reasons why you might want to change the aspect ratio of an image. You might find a certain aspect ratio more aesthetically pleasing, for example using a panoramic crop for a landscape image. The other reason is for fitting the images to a desired output format.
If you want to print some 4x3″ photos, then the photos will need to be in the 4:3 aspect ratio. If the photos are intended to be used as part of a widescreen video, then you'd want them cropped in the 16:9 format.
If you intend on printing images, then when cropping an image you should bear the final output size in mind. It's no good cropping an image to 16:9 if you intend to print it at a 4:3 ratio. If you just crop an image freehand, you may well end up with a weird aspect ratio that is nearly 4:3 but not quite, meaning the image would need to be cropped again for printing.
To this end, the crop tool in most image editing software allows you to specify the aspect ratio you want. In the crop tool options you can usually choose from some pre-specified options, or enter your own ratio manually. This will then constrain the cropping selection as you drag it out to the specified aspect ratio.
Cropping for learning and experimentation purposes
Cropping an image in different ways is a great way to try out different framing options. It can help you get an idea of what works and what doesn't for different subjects. You can try changing the position of the subject from centered, to the left side of the frame, to the right side. Or change the orientation from landscape format to portrait format. Try a square crop or a panoramic crop. All without having to take any extra photos.
I would encourage you to try this in-camera too. When you find a subject you want to photograph, try moving the camera around, zoom in and out, see what works best. But with mobile subjects, then taking one image and cropping later may be more practical. Don't just stick to the 'rule of thirds'. Doing this can give you a better idea of what framings work and what don't for certain scenes.
The problems with cropping
The main issue with cropping is that you are discarding areas of the image, thus you end up with an image that is lower resolution. Is this an issue? Well, it depends on the image quality of the image in the first place, how much you're cropping by, and how large you intend to display the image.
If you're just doing a slight crop to change the composition slightly, then the resolution isn't going to be affected too badly. But if you take a phone image and crop it down by 3x, then try to get it printed poster size, you're definitely going to have problems.
Victoria Fountain - Brian Eno Speaker Flowers Sound Installation at Marlborough House by Dominic Alves on flickr (licensed CC-BY). This very poor resolution image is a crop / detail from this image here.
When cropping an image to enlarge a subject, you will also enlarge any image quality issues with the photo. If your focus wasn't spot on, it will be more obvious after cropping the image. Lens issues such as chromatic aberration and lens softness will also become more obvious.
Image noise, particularly if the image was shot at a high ISO setting, will also show up more when an image is enlarged by cropping. This can be combated to some extent by using noise reduction on the image.
Using cropping to fix quick shots
No-one takes perfect shots all the time. (In fact most photographers take 'okay' shots most of the time - but they only display their best ones to the world). Cropping can be a great tool to fix an image that needs a little help.
Cropping isn't 'cheating'. If an image you have taken will look better with a little cropping, then go for it. You can't always take the time to carefully frame your photo exactly right. A cropped candid portrait where the composition wasn't quite right might be better than another photo shot a few seconds later when you'd perfected the composition in-camera, but the subject has noticed you and put on their 'photo face'.
To sum up, as with many things in photography, there is no black and white as to whether you should crop your images or not. Don't use cropping as an excuse - try and get the framing right in camera if you can. But equally, don't shy away from cropping an image if it will result in a better image.
Mountains can make for some great photos, whether they're snow-capped, bare rock, or covered in green foliage. For most of us, we don't regularly get the chance to see or walk up mountains. So when we do get to photograph in a mountain range, we want our shots to look as good as possible and really capture the splendor of the mountain. In this article I'll share some tips that will hopefully help you do just that.
Show the scale of the Mountains
A big problem when photographing mountains is to convey the sense of just how big the mountain really is. Without a size reference, a photograph of a mountain peak can look the same as a photo of a top of a rock. (Technically a mountain peak is the top of a rock, but hopefully you get my point).
To really give a sense of scale, you need something else in the scene of a known size. This then gives the viewer a reference, which they can compare to the mountain, and get an idea of how large it really is.
This could be a hut or barn at the base of a mountain. Or a boat crossing a lake by the mountain. For closer shots, trees or mountain climbers can give an idea of scale.
Showing scale isn't essential for a good mountain photograph. But it can make a viewer stand back and say 'Wow, that's big!'. Especially impressive when you want to show friends and family a mountain that you climbed!
Capturing mist and clouds
One of things about mountains is that even in the summer, you'll often get inclement weather. Depending on the weather and the height of the mountain, when walking up the mountain you may well find yourself walking through clouds.
While this can spoil the view out from the mountain, the misty conditions can present other photographic opportunities. A trail round the mountain edge that leads off into the mist is a good example.
Also look to capture the clouds rolling over the mountain peaks. This can be done from both up the mountain amongst the clouds (when the clouds are not too thick), or from the ground, below the mountains.
If you're lucky, you might find that when you get further up the mountain, you emerge above the clouds. This, again, can make for some great shots. Capture the valleys filled with clouds while the mountains peaks poke through to the sunnier space above.
Work with the light
As with most landscape photography, the warm light around sunrise or sunset is generally best for mountain photography. The low angle of the light really rakes across the landscape, bringing out all that beautiful texture.
However, you need to weigh up whether it is practical to be up a mountain around sunrise or sunset. If you are in a valley that does not face the sun, then being there for sunrise would be pointless. You'd need to wait for the sun to rise high enough to shine down in the valley.
The main issue though is that getting up (or in some cases even near) a mountain for sunrise or sunset can be quite difficult. In the case of sunrise you need to get up the mountain in the dark. Whereas for sunset it would mean getting back down the mountain in the dark.
Of course, there are photographers that navigate along mountain paths in the dark. But it is not generally a good idea unless you are familiar with the trail you're following.
One solution to this is to camp out on the mountain. But this does require bringing your camping gear with you. Make sure you are aware of any regulations regarding camping on the mountain as well.
Some mountains feature huts where you can stay overnight. But obviously you would need to plan ahead and make sure you plan your sunrise / sunset shoots to be near one of these cabins.
Another solution that is possible in some instances is to rely on a cable car. Some mountains feature a cable car near the top, so you can take your photos around sunset, then get back to the cable car and back down before it gets too dark.
However, make sure you are aware of the last cable car time. Unfortunately many of these cable car services seem to time their last car down so that it is always before sunset, and the first one up always after sunrise.
So, realistically, for many of us sunrise and sunset mountain photography is out of the picture. But, photos taken in the early morning and late afternoon will still give nicer light than shooting at midday. So try to plan your trip with this in mind.
Equipment for mountain photography
In a similar way to being up a mountain for sunset or sunrise, the photography equipment you bring with you is something you'll need to compromise on.
Ideally you'd bring a tripod. This can be useful for low-light photography, such as under the cover of forested slopes. It is also useful for HDR photography, where you want to keep the camera in the exact same position for each shot. However, you do need to consider the extra effort it takes to lug a tripod up a mountain.
A similar view needs to be taken with the rest of your photography equipment. You don't want to bring too much and then find you don't enjoy the experience because you're carrying too much weight.
The most important equipment is not photography related. Make sure you bring plenty to drink and layers of clothing. Walking up a mountain can be quite hot work, while the top of a mountain can be cold and windy.
If you're just heading up a mountain in a cable car, then these issues are not so problematic. Most cable car stations have a restaurant (or similar) at the top where you can buy a drink. And the weight of your equipment becomes less of an issue when you're not walking uphill so far.
Many mountains are covered with large areas of forest. When photographing in a mountainous region, these areas should not be neglected in favor of bare rock.
Forests on mountainsides are typically quite damp. You will often find dead logs covered in moss, and lichens hanging from the trees. Details like these can make for great photos, as can the path winding its way through the trees, beams of light coming through the forest canopy, and mist in the forest.
The most appealing time to photograph mountain forests is Fall. The bright Fall colors of trees can really stand out against rock and darker evergreen trees.
Plant and Animal life
When walking up or around a mountain, it can be easy to focus on the large peaks in the distance, and miss the details by your feet. Mountains can feature plant life that only grows at high altitudes, and you will not find elsewhere. Look out for rare flowers, such as orchids.
Similarly, you can often find large numbers of insects, such as butterflies high up mountains, feeding on the flowers that grow there.
And of course you may find various larger animals that you only tend to find in mountainous areas, such as certain bird species, mountain goats, and smaller mammals.
In all these cases, it is a good idea to research the mountain area you'll be visiting beforehand, so you know what to look out for. This can also help you in planning what equipment to bring. For example, if you find that a mountain is particularly famed for its flowers, then you might decide to bring a macro lens or close-up diopter filter with you to get some nice flower photos.
Watch the time
One last point to make, is to make sure you keep an eye on the time. With all the photographic opportunities that mountain walking can offer, you'll probably want to keep stopping to take photos.
Even if you only stop for half a minute each time, this can add up. If you're planning to reach the top of the mountain by a certain time, or need to get back down (or back to the cable car) by a certain time, you need to make sure that you're keeping on track for that to happen.
If you take lots of photos during mid-day while walking up a mountain, then find you need to rush and there's no time for photos near sunset, then this can be quite annoying. Ideally plan your trip to take account of time for photos. I would suggest allocating more time to taking photos than you think you'll need. Then you should be able to take an easier pace with no need to rush.
Mountain walking can be very enjoyable, even if it's just taking a cable car to the top then going for a short walk from there. With these tips hopefully you'll be able to come back with some great shots to remind you of the awesome views or foggy conditions, damp forests, and mountain plants and animals.
Minimalist Photography refers to the process of creating an image with a very simplistic composition. The photo is carefully framed to remove all distracting elements. Often the extraneous aspects of the scene are abstracted away, resulting in a photo capturing shape or form rather than a specific subject.
Keep it Clean & Simple
Simplifying a scene to remove distracting elements is something that can help with all types of photography. Minimalist photography is just taking it one step (or you could say several steps) further. Practicing minimalist photography can help you in understanding how to reduce a scene to its core point, which can be helpful even in non-minimalist photography.
Reducing a scene to its minimum is not always easy. Think carefully about your framing. Moving close to your subject or zooming in may help remove any unneeded elements. In some cases you might be better served zooming out or moving further away. There is no definitive answer as it will be different depending on the scene.
In some instances you can make use of depth of field to help create a clean image. By using a shallow depth of field (large aperture e.g. f/2.8), you can blur out the background, getting rid of any distracting elements that were there.
While I would always recommend to get it right in-camera, this isn't always possible. You might want to frame your image from a certain distance, but a tree branch pokes in at the edge of the image. In this case you can always resort to image editing software to clean the photo after the fact.
Most image editing software will feature a range of different tools you can use for removing elements from a photo. The clone stamp is probably the most well known, but the healing brush, patch tool, content-aware fill, and even the simple paint brush can all come in handy for this job.
Use of compositional elements
Composition is extremely important in minimalist photography. In fact, a strong minimalist photograph may consist only of a single compositional element, and nothing else. It may be an image with a leading line, and nothing else.
The use of lines often plays a heavy role in minimalist photos. The lines can be provided by anything, but architecture commonly provides strong lines that can be used as the basis for a minimalist shot. Similarly, strong shadows on a sunny day can create nice shapes and lines as a suitable subject.
Pattern is another element often used in minimalistic photography. The frame is reduced to just pattern, with little else. In a similar way, a scene composed of a pattern with a single element breaking the pattern can also work well for a minimalist photo, for example the windows of a block of flats where one single window has a window box with flowers in it.
Make use of negative space
Dedicating a large portion of the image to negative space can make for a stronger minimalist photo. By making the subject small in the scene, it actually helps them stand out more against the rest of the image than if they took up more of the photo.
Making use of negative space forces you to avoid a cluttered scene. This typically makes for a photo that is easier to view - the viewer's eye is not going everywhere trying to find what to focus on. Instead it is drawn straight to the subject.
Long exposures and Minimalism
Getting in really close to a subject for a close-up or macro photograph often works well for a minimalist photograph. For larger subjects, such as landscapes and buildings, you may notice that a long exposure time is often used.
Using a slow shutter speed allows moving elements in the scene, that may otherwise be distracting, blur away into an abstraction. Moving water takes on a smooth milky look, tidal water may even look almost like fog in a long exposure photograph.
In a similar way, a long exposure will remove well defined outlines of clouds, instead rendering them as blurred streaks of white. In busy areas full of people, the moving people can be blurred into non-existence (or an abstract blur of color) by use of a long exposure.
Black & White vs. Color
Black and white is a popular medium for minimalist photographs. When you think about it, this makes sense, as black and white is a form of minimalism itself - it is removing the color from the photo, so you will only focus on the differences in tone in the image.
Bridge to Nowhere - Mackinac Bridge in Thanksgiving Blizzard; cable study. by Andrew Morrell on flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)
As I mentioned earlier, the use of strong contrast, whether tonal or color, is often used. In between shades are removed, further cutting down the image to its bare essentials. Certainly don't feel you have to use strong contrast, photos with a smooth gradient can work nicely too. But heavy contrast can be effective in many situations.
People may argue over whether a photo is truly minimalist or not, but really what minimalism boils down to is reducing the extraneous aspects of a photo to result in a stronger image.
Looking specifically for subjects / scenes that suit a minimalistic approach can result in great photos. But it's the ability to take any scene and remove the 'noise' that can really help you in your photography. Try minimalist photography, and with practice you'll find yourself applying the aspects to all your photography, resulting in stronger photographs.
There have been lots of books written about black and white photography, but relatively little is written on the subject of color photography. In some aspects this is understandable - black and white can be trickier since we do not see in black and white, thus we need more guidance on it.
However, since we are so used to seeing (and photographing) in color, it can be easy to overlook certain points when creating a color photograph. In this article I want to share a few ideas to help get you thinking more about the use of color in photography, and how it can be used to improve your photos.Read the rest of this entry »
Lighting is obviously very important in photography. Without light, there'd be no photo. But what you may not realize is that the direction of the lighting plays a large role in the look of a photo.
There are three main directions of light that are purposefully used in photography - Front Lighting, Back Lighting, and Side Lighting. It is these that I want to take a look at in this article.Read the rest of this entry »
Before the days of digital photography, photos would (virtually) always be printed. There wasn't really any other way of viewing the images, unless you liked looking at the tiny negatives!
But in this digital age, the vast majority of photos are never printed. They sit languishing on hard drives, unlikely to be looked at again. So, what can you do about making sure your photos actually get seen?Read the rest of this entry »
Macro photography in a studio setting can be quite rewarding. You have much more control over the scene, being able to easily modify the lighting, background, and move around your subject without anything getting in the way.
When I say 'studio setting', I am not talking about a full blown photography studio. I just mean indoors, in a controlled environment. With macro and close-up photography, the top of a small table can be your studio!Read the rest of this entry »
Perspective distortion is something you'll often find in photos that contain straight lines, such as the lines of a building. This type of distortion comes in the form of converging or diverging lines. For example, if you take a photo looking up at a tall building, the sides of the building will form converging lines, getting closer together higher up the building.
Often this effect can be put to good use, to create an image that is more compelling than if the straight lines were perfectly vertical (or horizontal). But there are some instances where perspective distortion may be unwanted. For example, in architecture photography, perspective distortion is sometimes avoided.
There are a few different ways that perspective distortion can be removed, which I'll look at in this article. These techniques can also be reversed if you want to add or increase perspective distortion in your photos.Read the rest of this entry »
If you've been looking at purchasing a tripod, you might have noticed that there are two types – those that include the legs only, and those that include the legs and a head. The head is the top part of the tripod that you mount your camera on, and which lets you move the camera around on the tripod to achieve your desired framing.
There are a few different types of head available for your tripod, which is what we'll look at in this article. Some tripods come with a built-in head, which cannot be removed. Others come with a head included that can be removed (which allows you to swap for another head if wanted). If you purchase a legs only tripod, then you'll need to purchase a head separately.Read the rest of this entry »
Photography is all about capturing light, and natural light from the sun is the most often used main light source in photography. However, natural light can vary quite considerably depending on a variety of factors.
For best results, it is important to understand how natural light is affected by these different factors, and in turn how this will affect a photo captured in that light. This is what I want to look at in this article.
Read the rest of this entry »
Combination of three images taken in different natural lighting conditions: left - direct sunlight; middle - sunlight through thin cloud; right - overcast. Note the difference in shadows between each image.