Photography Tutorials:

Photography 101: The Art of the Crop

The Art of the Crop - Title Picåç

Everything in Life is a Crop of Something Else

The Art of the Crop is the first in a series of informative tutorials we can all benefit from. It’s based off a lesson I posted on the Facebook Paramotor Photography Group, an online forum and repository of user generated paramotor photography. If you’re a member of Facebook, I highly recommend you join this group. For this first tutorial I’ve chosen cropping, an often overlooked but powerful tool when post processing any image. Adobe Lightroom 5 is the program I’ll be referencing for all of these tutorials, but the actions required are able to be duplicated in just about any modern photo editor.

The Art of the Crop - Working Pic 1Let’s start with this image on the right (click for a larger version). It’s an ok frame but the subject is a little too far away and the horizon is not straight. Subconsciously the brain looks to the horizon for everything, it’s what gives us equilibrium in our ears and it’s natures natural balancing act for the world around us. Unless you’re taking pictures of aerobatics or something that’s upside down, the horizon should always be straight. Now having said that, remember that there is no set rule in photography!

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In order to straighten the horizon out you have to rotate this image slightly to the left, counterclockwise, probably in the realm of around 10°. In doing so you will crop the corners out as a byproduct. Use the straightening ruler in Lightroom for this.

A Straightened Horizon is a Good Starting Point

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The Art of the Crop - Working Pic 4This part is a big deal. Once the horizon is straightened out, click the aspect panel in the Crop and Straighten menu on LR. The point is to always crop to (ideally) standard printable dimensions – 4×5, 11×14, etc…. This panel in LR has those presets already there, so for instance if you want a 4×5, click it. The point is to stay within the boundaries for what is available where frames are concerned. Many retailers carry the common sizes such as 4×5, 8×10, 11×14, etc., but off sizes are much harder to find.

Aspect Ratios Matter

The Art of the Crop - Working Pic 5The image to the left has an aspect ratio is 4×5, a popular wall display size going back to the beginnings of modern photography.



The Art of the Crop - Working Pic 6My personal favorite is to the right, the 2×3 aspect ratio. This will always give you a crop that’s 1.5x longer on one side then the other. Not only is this visually appealing, it’s a common dimension to a lot of monitors AND more and more stores are starting to carry frames that match it – 10″x15″, 20″x30″, etc…

The Art of the Crop - Working Pic 7Don’t forget you can always rotate the crop from landscape to portrait orientation. The differences can be quite subtle or profound, depending on the image. Although traditionally each orientation has been reserved for it’s namesake, again remember that there are no hard and fast rules in photography, so experiment!
The Art of the Crop - Working Pic 8One last but very important thing. When framing your shot, the goal is NOT to crop. So start shooting like a cropper and frame your shots appropriately in camera so that you don’t have to do crop in post. There are several ways to do this, but the most popular is the rule of thirds where the intersections of 4 imaginary lines are primarily where you want your subject.

The reason you ideally don’t want to crop a lot in post production is because you’re loosing pixels/resolution which lowers your printing size capability and your ability to display an image without pixelating it.

Use Your Imagination

The Art of the Crop - Working Pic 9There are many other cropping guides to use when framing your shot in camera, but perhaps the most intriguing to me is the Golden Ratio.