The idea of cropping is a very personal one. Some people like to shoot in a loose way, often handheld, then crop in the wet or digital darkroom. I tend to work in a very formal way when I shoot. I poke around until I find a location that speaks to me, then look at all the elements to determine what I want to include and exclude in the image. Then I look at what focal length and camera angle will give me the effect I want in relation to scale, compression and connectedness to the model.
Usually this means shooting a number of test images from various places within the location, and trying a few lenses. Once I decide the combination of placement and focal length, I will put the camera on a tripod so I eliminate the variable of misframing and solely focus on the model’s line, movement and emotion.
Sometimes, though, things come together differently than initially planned, and that’s when cropping should be considered. Here’s an example.
On a recent shoot, I carefully chose the camera position to include the windows in an asymmetrical way (3 on the left, 2 on the right), intentionally included the piece of wood on the left as a nice element to add texture, and cropped on the right to incorporate the light hitting the wood below the windows.
We shot a number of scenarios in this location. The photograph at the top of the post is one that I liked a lot.
Then we experimented with fabric, and at the time I liked the way her left arm flirted with the center line vertically. And I also liked the parallax effect of the light coming through the windows and the light on the floor pointing in toward my model.
But then, while editing in Lightroom, I started to see another option.
There were two things that led me to try this crop. One was that though I loved the pose, my model felt too static in relation to the center line. If the pose had been more dramatic, like the first image, I could see it working well. But with her being mostly vertical and contained in shape, the framing did not seem to work. The other concern was that the light coming through the windows on the right and onto the wood below the windows fights for attention (remember, your eye always goes to the brightest part of the photograph first).
The second image is cropped to eliminate the windows on the right, and by doing so I’ve made the model and the fabric the brightest part of the photograph. Doing this also placed her in a much more dramatic spot within the frame. To me, it is more successful.
This is not to say that I think it is a good idea to shoot loosely and crop later. I believe in going with a strong composition when shooting because it helps develop (or maintain) your style. I just think it’s best to not get too caught up with a dogma that what came out of the camera is sacred and cannot be interpreted after the fact. If cropping makes a picture more powerful, just do it.