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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Previous comments

I think there are a lot of people that don't crop. You can usually tell who they are because their images are crooked.

Duane Klipping's picture

Not sure how cropping relates to crooked images. Even if cropped it could still be crooked.

I have no issue with correcting for slants. I sometimes find myself having to rotate a bit because I do have a bad shoulder and when shooting family portraits at weddings, there is a noticeable slant on some images.
but its simply for correction.

Cropping is part of the artistic decision. If you are planning on printing, won't you have to crop the photo?

never happened to me to crop an image for print. the US does have odd printing sizes though. we dont have 8x10" prints

Cherokee, I love the phrase cropaholic. If you don't mind, I'd love to use it in my classes. I say, if it doesn't serve the image, get rid of it.

Really? I can't believe we are still discussing this. Just the very nature of photography is cropping: you include some things and leave out others. You use different lenses to capture different perspectives thereby including some things and leaving out others. You change your shooting angle thereby including some things and leaving out others. You post process thereby making some things lighter and some things darker thereby emphasizing some things and de-emphasizing out others.

Being a proponent not cropping is akin to saying you should never do any postprocessing and should "get it right in the camera" and your images should go from the card to client.

Great comments!

Every photograph you take is cropped, just by the nature of the field of view. You never are photographing the entire scene of anything. As you look through the viewfinder, what do you see? A cropped image of the actual scene! Therefore I will never understand the idea that cropping in camera is ok, but cropping after the shot in post, isn't. •~Scratching my head~•

Brandon Lew's picture

I think that from a teaching perspective, it's better to teach them the mindset of trying to get things as close to perfect in the camera. That being said though, I don't see why you shouldn't be willing to crop once you've established your understanding of composition. Some people like me can't yet afford to buy something like a $1,500+ / 400mm+ wildlife long lens and even if we could, some of those large ones might be too cumbersome for everyday use. Having done a fair share of small bird photography on a EF-S 55-250mm+Rebel SL2 aps-c, I've learned that even at the closest vicinity I can get to a small bird to take a photo, cropping is still necessary to fill the frame enough to achieve my vision of the subject. Telling me not to crop is like saying, don't do bird photography because I can't afford 400mm+ lens...sometimes you don't have the luxury to choose, but if you're still passionate then you have to do what you have to do.

David Medeiros's picture

Getting it right in camera, or as close as possible, is the more efficient (and maybe elegant) way to shoot. But even when trying to perfect the shot in camera why would you deny yourself the ability to tweak and edit later? Playing a game of "no crop" from time to time might be a good composition exercise but it's absurd to think you'd simply NEVER crop any image. It's honestly so ridiculous I'm not sure why it's even worth dragging out of the depths of the forums to write an article about!

That said, it's a little disingenuous to do a crop before/after comparison with the before also being an unprocessed RAW file. You're unnecessarily handicapping the before shot IMO and muddying the comparison. And that's entirely different stupid argument anyway! ; )

Kirk Darling's picture

"But in my opinion, as long as the content is not photojournalistic or essentially crossing into an ethical dilemma, cropping is OK,"

No. It's not an "or" issue. There is nothing inherently wrong with cropping in photojournalism UNLESS it's being done to slant the image to a particular agenda.

But even then it becomes a moot point. If the photographer intended to slant his work according to a particular agenda, he already did that when he raised the camera to his eye, pointed it in a certain direction, and released the shutter at a particular time.

So cropping doesn't have a bearing "content is photojournalism," except to remove extraneous elements and focus upon what the photographer was focusing on--with all his biases along for the ride no matter what.

Kirk Darling's picture

I remember back in the early 70s when there was a "no cropping" school of thought. Those photographers filled away the edges of their enlarger negative carriers so that the sprocket holes of the film showed in the prints to prove they hadn't cropped anything.

It was silly then.

It's still silly.

Honestly, I don't understand why anybody ever thought to express an opinion on this. Of *course* you crop if it makes the photo better. Isn't that obvious?

I took this photo this weekend. It's much better cropped.