To Crop or Not to Crop?

To Crop or Not to Crop?

I've heard several arguments in the past against cropping images. But in my opinion cropping is OK. Here's why. 

The ultimate goal when capturing a scene with a shutter click and working in post after the fact should be to create the strongest final image possible. Whether the goal is to tell a compelling story through the visual or simply to create a beautiful photograph of a nature scene, all photographers are usually striving for the strongest and most visually appealing image possible. 

While I was in college I took a few fine art photography classes although I had already been taking and creating images for years before. So, I was surprised to hear how strongly against cropping one of my professors was. She stressed the fact that we should always do our best to capture the scene how we were hoping to print it when looking through the viewfinder. She taught this almost religiously. 

But in my opinion, as long as the content is not photojournalistic or essentially crossing into an ethical dilemma, cropping is OK, and should even be encouraged. I do think that as photographers we should always do our best to get our settings and composition correct in camera, but sometimes in the heat of the moment this doesn't work out. Sometimes a scene happens too quickly and you might not have time to put on the proper lens or stand in the right place. And sometimes when revisiting our images while post-processing, we see the scene differently and wish to crop an image to create a better final end result. In my opinion, cropping should be taught as another tool in a photographer's arsenal to create compelling imagery. Below are a few before and after photos to show how cropping can strengthen compositions and put more focus on the subject. The "before" is straight out of the camera while the "after" is edited and cropped ... what are your thoughts on cropping? Do you avoid it like the plague or do it all the time? 

How do you feel about cropping? Leave your best examples in the comments below.

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42 Comments

Cherokee Lair's picture

I am a cropaholic and unapologetic!
Nothing irritates me more than seeing a beautiful photograph that would be spectacular if an inch has been cropped off on the left or the right or the entire composition...
Yes, it is my ambition to get the exact right shot in the camera but sometimes the best shot is the one I create by cropping!

D Porter's picture

I almost always shoot with the notion that cropping will need to be done. In the past, I've too often missed something because I've not framed the shot liberally. Of course if I know in advance nothing will move or change, I'm less worried, but that is the exception, not the rule.

user-156929's picture

I always prefer to get it right in camera but sometimes I plan on cropping due to shooting constraints or in anticipation of a client's request. Rules, in photography, are antithetical to creativity and guidelines are situational.

Cropping is better than not getting the shot, but ideally, you would frame in camera when possible.

Jonathan Brady's picture

How's this for a final word...
Not cropping can be a goal, but never a mandate.

Philipp Pley's picture

I only shoot with prime lenses and often I have to crop to get the composition right. Sometimes 'zoom with your feet' is not an option, like when you're on a balcony for example.

Even with zoom lenses, changing aspect ratio is a type of crop: Again that can aid the composition.

michaeljin's picture

Ideally you'd want to get it right in the camera so that you're making the most of your sensor's resolution, but sometimes that's just not possible and other times you may look back on an image in your catalog and discover that a different crop of the composition tells the story better. If cropping enhances the final product, then I say go for it.

Jon Dize's picture

EXACTLY! For a professor to even suggest that one should never shoot to crop tells me this professor has never been published, never worked with magazines or art directors aka the old saying, "Those who can, do... those who can't... teach."

Yes! use as much Real Estate on the sensor as possible, but one thing you learn when shooting for magazines, newspapers... provide plenty of AIR.

Yeah, AIR is an industry term for room for BLEED and cropping to some degree.

Just like my mentor and several of my instructors over the past 43 years in photography told me to always shoot a vertical... for the cover.

So, whatever the assignment, make sure you compose in the least restrictive manner possible that allows you the most options and I still make sure I shoot a vertical whenever possible.

I have had people call me back years later and say, "Remember that shot you did for us... We want to run that again, do you have a vertical for the cover?" At least a half a dozen times over the years.

Yeah! Sometimes you can get away with re-cropping the horizontal shot and certainly with Photoshop there are more options than 30 years ago, but... Images are the commodity, photographers trade in, why not generate as many resources/options as you can?

The photographer that has OPTIONS is going to do better than the photographer who suffers from myopic/anemic resources.

It goes along with a saying I coined 35 years ago. "The difference between an Amateur Photographer and a Professional Photographer? The Professional Photographer has a Plan B."

Terry Waggoner's picture

.........having read this post, I was curious as to who poster was as there are those who claim intelligence and experience when posting, I clicked on the gentleman's name and hit the link to his BIO. Interesting read, through I had to fight the need for a nap a couple of times, and worth the time it took.....................and yeah, I'm jealous...........

Jon Dize's picture

To be honest Terry, it bores me to death. I refused to share a bio for a decade, but my son talked me into posting one. There is much more, but I thought... just as you said, who the heck wants to read on and on and on. I've left out many things I have experienced, including My MGM Morning http://dizeman.com/mgm_fire/ which I seldom post in public. Dozens of other assignments and events that my wife often snarks, "Who gets to do that?" To remind me how fortunate I have been, considering I had very little to do with any of it. I get lucky now and then. Good luck in all you do!

Jordan McChesney's picture

I have no idea why anyone would be against cropping. It’s not a crutch, it’s a tool to help the artist show you what needs to be shown.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

I find people who are against cropping to be just hard headed. First of all, what is composing a scene in a viewfinder if not a process of actual cropping from the bigger scene in front of us. So why composing a scene in viewfinder is a valid technique but cropping in post production is not? I could never understand that. Keep in mind that even for harsh standards of photojournalism which forbids many forms of retouching, cropping remains a valid technique.
I do a good amount of street photography where perfect framing is not always possible. and so in post production I crop and rotate without much hesitation. Would I like to get it right the moment I press the shutter? Of course, but nothing in life is perfect :)

EVERY photographed is cropped- no one shoots the entire world in front of them - it's always about selecting which part of the world in front of you to capture. If you tweak that selection in post it is no different artistically or ethically than the selection you made in 'real time'.

Always try to get everything right in camera, but have no problem cropping if needed. I just hate losing those resolution if I have to crop too much.

Kim Ginnerup's picture

Ofcourse you can crop. Sometimes I crop to a square. When you frame your photo, you make the best judgement you can. sometimes you can do it better in post. It is the end result that matters.

I always crop everything because I need to use a different aspect ratio for Instagram. But there is of course something to be said for getting it right in camera, more pixels means a larger possible print.

I almost never crop. I get it right in camera. I dont mind if someone does, except
1-when its anything but 2x3- yes, I loath sqaure or ws crops. thats just me. I realize many do it but I feel like staying true to the aspect ratio of the media im shooting.
ws shots are ok if they are REAL panoramas
2-when the image clearly looks like it was cropped. when the IQ has large grain and everything looks low rez.

I think a lot of people manipulate an image WAY too much

Why should my vision for the image be limited to a ratio of my camera sensor?

Mike, nice and concise!

do what you want. why do I care if you wanna crop or not?

Jon Dize's picture

Ahhhhh... one of those PURE PHOTOGRAPHY BUFFS. You're the kind of guy I wrote this prose for nearly 10 years ago. Here, let me break you off a piece. http://dizeman.com/photoshopyesno/

click your own link. I think cropped images arent aesthetic. simple as that. seems I touched a sensitive nerve because you get so defensive.

Jon Dize's picture

Defensive? I think your judgement is esotericusbullshiticus, simple as that.

You make a ridiculous comment, when you stop and think about it, you say cropped images aren't aesthetic?

How on earth would you know an image is cropped, unless you had an original image to compare it to.

So, if somebody presents you with an image, you are how are you going to judge it as aesthetic or not?

The very basis of your comment makes no sense at all. Every image taken is cropped the moment you take the photo, unless you have a 360 degree x 360 degree coverage. I don't think you realize how silly your comment actually is.

So, what you are telling me is... you see a photo hanging on a wall and you look at that photo and somehow, magically you decide if you like it or not, based on whether or not it was cropped, something YOU CANNOT KNOW unless the photographer tells you?

OR WORSE, you look at the photo on the wall and cannot decide if you like the AESTHETICS of it, until you hunt down the photographer and ask if he cropped it?

Seriously?

I am not defensive, I've just seen the same nonsense mulled over for DECADES!

when I see someone not writing in paragraphs, it all looks chinese to me

move along jondize, argue with yourself.

Jon Dize's picture

Your generalize if a photo, regardless of it's content is cropped you find it not aesthetic and now you worry about paragraph spacing instead of content? You won't click a link, because you might learn something and you don't mind offering your opinion, but can't tolerate someone disagreeing with you? Not a great recipe for learning new things. I think I recognize your problem. YFOS! Yeah! WE'RE DONE! YEOW!

do me a favor, move along. stop harassing me. crop, dont crop. I dont give a rats asz

dont push your opinion down my throat. pess off jon

Matthias Kirk's picture

I would never crop!
My action shots alway allign to the perfect composition, my lenses have unlimited reach, and I would never present an image in a different aspect ratio from my sensor.
Or would I...

I often avoid cropping if i can, it's a lazy way to achieve good composition. Usually i crop only because my shot was composed for other ratios like 4:3 or 16:9. If i intended to use it in 3:2 i will attempt to compose perfectly on camera itself to avoid cropping.

Doc M's picture

I find that if i am using my sony i crop a lot less. however, if i am using my leica for landscape i tend to crop a lot more as anything wider than 28mm is a guess on the composition. However cropping is no different than any other post processing tool.

Jonathan Reid's picture

I always shoot a little wider than I intend the final image to be. This gives more flexibility for how the image will be used. Composing with the final crop in camera is a bit like shooting in jpeg. It is closer to the finished picture, but it removes flexibility.

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