Cropping for composition at the time of capture.
The 2:3 Curse.
Most digital cameras capture images in a 2:3 ratio. Quite often though that ratio of height to width isn’t going to work to give you the best representation of the scene you’re trying to photograph. That’s why cropping is such a great tool.
For me the crop is an invaluable creative tool for achieving the optimal composition. After I’ve uploaded my files to the computer, I’ll regularly play with various crops to see if there is one that really works well. And like most, my cropping is done after the fact, in the computer, when I see the possibility of a stronger composition than the one the original capture provided.
Too Much “Stuff.”
Lately though I’ve been cropping in my head before I ever press the shutter. With a little vision, or pre-vision, I’ve started looking for the best composition within a scene. Better than the one the camera is going to capture, no matter how I frame the shot.
Sometimes, when I’m composing a photograph there is just too much extra “stuff” in the frame, and due to the available shooting position, or the subject itself, I’m unable to eliminate the extra “stuff” at the time of capture. And as a result the photographs aren’t as strong as they could be. Here is where the mental cropping comes into play.
Take these two photos of Glen Ellis Falls in northern New Hampshire.
Actually it’s the same photo twice.
The one on the left is the entire scene as my camera saw it, the one on the right is the final image I envisioned, having mentally cropped it before I pressed the shutter.
For me the one on the right is a much stronger image due to the exclusion of most of the darker cliff on the right, as well as some of the stream on the lower right. Also, since this is a rather tall and narrow waterfall, the tall and narrow crop emphasizes its height as well as my low POV and the great texture in the foreground ice.
Not Enough “Stuff.”
There are also times when there isn’t enough “stuff.”
Have you ever gone out for a sunrise hoping for just the right amount of clouds in the sky to reflect the glow from the rising sun?
Only to find once you arrive that the clouds aren’t where you wanted them to be.
Pretty inconsiderate of them, right?
Well rather that walk away thinking you’re not going to get the photo you wanted, this is a great time to mentally crop out that lack of “stuff.”
Here are two versions of a photograph I made along Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine.
In the original image the clouds were too far off shore towards the horizon, leaving too much empty sky near the top of the frame.
I wasn’t entirely happy with the way the above photo was going to turn out, but since I knew I was going to be cropping out most of that empty sky for the final image, I pressed the shutter and moved on.
Here is the final image.
(I also decided on B&W for the final image, but that’s a story for another time)
In the end, you still have to crop the photo in the computer, but think of how much post processing time you’ll save knowing exactly how you’re going to crop before you’ve even uploaded the photos to your computer.