Even most amateur photographers appreciate that a great photo requires great lighting, an interesting subject and good execution. However, where some people let their photos down is in cropping them correctly. That can be either when you are taking the photo or more likely in post-production. Whether you are a purist and don’t want to manipulate your photos, or you are happy to do extensive post-production is up to you. But keep in mind that every photo will benefit from some level of work, even if it is the basics. For example, you should ensure that you correct the white balance and straighten your images. One aspect that you should never forgo is to crop your image if it requires it. It can mean the difference between a photo that works or and one that does not. The great thing about digital photography is that you will be able to return to your original image so you can experiment with different crops. To help you crop your photos better, here are 5 tips.
Use the rule of thirds
Rules are there to be broken… but the issue is that most people who don’t adhere to the rule of thirds are not improving their photos. The rule of thirds is a good starting point to help you achieve a pleasing composition. To use the rule of thirds, simply divide your image by 2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines (so you will end up with nine squares). If you are using Adobe Lightroom you can select the overlay from the crop tool by pressing “o” on your keyboard. You should then try to crop your image in a way so that you place points of interest on or near to the intersection of the lines. Of course, it is always better to try to compose your image with the rule of thirds in mind. But if you feel that there is something missing from the image when in post-production try it out. But remember rules are there to be broken and sometimes the composition might work better without following the rule of thirds. So try experimenting with your crop of the image to see what works.
Ensure your message is clear
A good photograph will capture the viewer’s attention and ensure that the story or message that is being communicated is clear. Sometimes the best way to achieve this is to crop certain elements out of the photo that might be distracting. This will ensure that the viewers’ eyes are not wandering around the image. The key is to look at your photo objectively and ask yourself what the key message or story is. Then play around with the crop of your image to see if removing some distracting elements will help. Be especially vigilant of unwanted things around the edges of the photos. For example, a random hand creeping into the shot can be cropped out to ensure you have a clean image.
Don’t crop too much
It might sound like a contradiction to the point above, but sometimes you can be guilty of cropping too much. For example, there may be times when you actually need some elements around your main point of interest to give it more context. For example, if you are taking an environmental portrait you need to show some of the surroundings of the person. But the key is to ensure that there is synergy between the subject and the surroundings and most importantly the message isn’t lost. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t crop, but more about thinking about the overall context of the main subject within its surroundings.
Imagine it being used
One of the best ways to improve the way you frame and crop your image is to think about that image being used somewhere like a magazine or a poster. This is vital if you are planning to sell your images as say stock shots. But even if you are just taking photos for yourself, it is still worth getting into the habit of using this technique. For example, say you are photographing a landmark. If you place the landmark in the middle of the photo, it would be unlikely for it to be used in a double-page spread. Because the main point of interest falls into what is known as the “gutter” (i.e. the centre of the page). But place it on the left or the right (using the rule of thirds) and not only does it improve the composition but it is more likely for it to be used.
Try something different
As mentioned earlier, one of the great things about digital photography is the ability to experiment with your photos. This can be both at the time of taking them and later in post-production. So don’t be afraid to experiment with the way you crop your images. You may find that a crop you are not usually accustomed to like a panoramic or square works wonders for a photograph. You can always revert back to your original image if need be.
Cropping your images is potentially a simple way of improving a photograph. The great thing is that if it doesn’t work you can simply revert the image to how it was before. The key thing when cropping is to ensure that your key message remains clear. If you have to remove distracting elements to help that then do so. So give it a go and experiment with the crop of your images, you may be surprised with the results.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.