How we crop (we usually use the word “crop” for what we would do to a picture after we take it and the term “framing” for how we would compose the subject in the viewfinder when we take the photo) can dramatically alter the overall impact of an image. You might have seen my post about a month ago concerning how I learned this in a whole new way last year while participating in a sports photography workshop. While it would be ideal to do our cropping and even our placement of the subject in the frame while we are shooting, sometimes it just is not possible (action photography, not having a powerful enough lens, etc.).
Furthermore, when we do discuss cropping our images, this usually begins another whole topic that is confusing to most photographers and that is aspect ratio (or the ratio of the height to width of certain common photographic sizes). In short, most cameras shoot in an aspect ratio of 2:3 which comes out to a standard 4X6 print. However, if you have ever tried to make let’s say an 8X10 photo, you realize quickly that what you had in the original aspect ratio that your camera captured, may not fit so well in the shorter aspect ratio of an 8X10. Understanding how to crop your images is vitally important but understanding how different aspect ratios might help the final composition of your shot is even more important.
I choose this photo of the squirrel shown above because first of all, I could not frame it in any tighter with the camera (I was already at 600mm on a DX format camera) and secondly because it is a subject that could work well in the center of the frame but that I might also want to try placing at different rule of thirds lines in the frame for more impact. It is a photo I captured just the other day so I figured it would be fun to use for this suggested exercise.
I took the image into my editing software (any photo editor could do this) and after applying a little color and exposure adjustment to it, I hit Save As and renamed the photo, “Original”. Then opening up the cropping function, I choose a 2:3 (often listed as 4X6) and cropped it tighter as a horizonal. I then went to Save As and named it “4X6 Horizonal”. I then repeated the process for a 4X6 vertical, 8X10 horizonal and vertical and then finally as a 16X9. Many of my photography team and students will tell you that I am infatuated in recent years by the 16X9 format. While I am not sure it is the strongest cropping option on this specific image, I like the long shape of this format and it is basically the aspect ratio of most computer monitors and big screen TV’s making it a great choice if you want to use the image as a desktop background.
Finally, it is most effective to see these different crops next to each other so I used ACDSee software to create a photo collage with a black background and the size label under each photo. If you wish to put your 6 or so photos (cropped differently) on the same background paper and do not know how too, feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org your 6 labeled photos and I will be happy to mock them up and send you back the collage. Furthermore, if it is OK, I would love to share a couple of our students examples on our Facebook page for others to see as well.