Photography: Cream Of The Crop

Simon Thomas explains how cropping a photograph to improve its composition can turn a good image into something spectacular

I was talking to an online class of photography students recently after I’d been asked to critique their images and suggest improvements. When I mentioned to two students that their images could be improved in terms of composition by cropping their photographs, there was an uneasy pause. Then one of the students asked: “What’s cropping?” So, this instalment of ABR’s Photography Masterclass is going to focus on this simple but powerful post-processing technique.

What’s cropping?

In simple terms, cropping an image simply means using an editing program like Photoshop to reduce or edit the overall dimensions of an image and the pixels that are displayed. Yep, that’s it.


But why?

It’s a fair question. It can seem counterintuitive to spend a small fortune on a smartphone upgrade, or a new high megapixel camera, only to later choose to remove pixels and reduce the size of an image. However, this is the very reason some professional photographers actually choose to shoot with high megapixel cameras in the first place.

Let’s face it, it’s not always possible to grab the perfect shot. Shooting a moving motorcycle and capturing the perfect composition is tough. Improving the composition of the elements in your photo is the main reason that photographers crop an image.

Take the photo in this article for example. The actual image captured has Lisa riding her BMW F 800 GS in Baja Mexico. Sure, it’s nice enough, but there are some issues with it. Lisa is bang in the middle of the image and there is no real balance between the foreground and the sky. The three chevron signs are also distracting when I really want the shot to focus on Lisa and her bike.

Here’s the info for the image:
Camera body: Nikon D3
Lens: Nikor 70.0-200 mm f/2.8
Focal Length: 75.0 mm
Focus Mode: Manual
Aperture: f/4
Shutter Speed: 1/4000 seconds
Exposure Mode: Auto
Exposure Comp: -1
Metering: Spot
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 320
White Balance: Standard
Speed light/Flash: Did not fire
Picture profile: Warm
Sharpening: +1
Contrast: -1
Brightness: 0
Saturation: +1
Hue: 0
Processed With: Luminar 4 & Photoshop

Cropping success

Check out the cropped image. Although the change is subtle, it works much better. By cropping the image, I’ve removed extraneous sky, road, and one of the distracting chevron signs that didn’t add anything to the shot. The crop also places more emphasis on Lisa because proportionally she is now a bigger part of the photo.

By cropping the image to the left, I’ve also placed Lisa and her bike to the right of the new composition which gives her somewhere to ride through the shot. By cropping closer into Lisa and her bike, the volcano in the background has also become a more integral part of the shot. Lastly, I also rotated the image clockwise which increases the sense of Lisa leaning into the corner. Proportionally and compositionally speaking the new cropped image works much better.

Most photo editing programs, even the free ones, offer the crop tool as a standard feature and it’s simple enough to use. I’ll use Adobe’s Photoshop, one of the most common pieces of editing software, in this example to show you how simple the process really is to complete

  • Open Photoshop
  • Click ‘open’ from the file menu to open your image
  • From the toolbar on the left, select and click the crop tool
  • With the crop tool active, simply use your mouse or trackpad to drag the corner handles to resize your image
  • Release your mouse and hit the ‘confirm’ button at the top of your screen to confirm your edit. That’s it, you’re done

You can now save your newly cropped image to your computer or external hard drive. Remember to have fun and experiment with different crops on various photographs to see what works best. You’ll get some cracking results the more you practise, I promise. If you get a moment, share your favourite images to us at