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The Art of Cropping


  • Frank Lopes
    started a blog post The Art of Cropping

    The Art of Cropping

    First of all a disclaimer:

    I'm horrible at cropping. Most of the time, the notion of volumes and spaces, balance or rule of thirds, is beyond me.

    I have a hard time visualizing by looking at a photo, how I could improve the image just by appropriately cropping it.

    Some people have "it" and some don't. I don't

    So what I do is experiment until I arrive at a point that pleases me.
    It is an enjoyable learning process that has thought me a thing or two.

    During this journey, I came to learn a few things regarding the cropping of panoramas.

    Don't crop with the camera

    Unlike other kinds of photography where it is advisable to use the camera to crop the subject, when shooting panoramas always shoot more than you think you need.

    When shooting panoramas always start before and end beyond the main scene. This gives you some extra canvas to adjust the distortion of the image. It is not uncommon for assembled panos to show symptoms of distortion in the far left and far right of the assemble project. This happens with all lenses but specially with ultra wide focal lengths. It also happens in the middle images but it is less severe since the stitching software by superimposing the different shots, took care of that.

    Crop the image last

    Don't crop the image until your post-processing is complete. Adjust for horizontal and vertical alignment, pincushion and barrel distortion and then crop.

    Look at these three images.

    The first is the panorama before cropping or post processing.

    The second was cropped and then post-processed for alignment and distortion

    The third was processed for alignment and distortion and then cropped.

    Image 1

    Image 2

    Image 3

    All images are 800 x 213 pixels.

    You truly gain "real estate" by following this sequence.

    Crop again

    That's right. After you processed the image and cropped it to eliminate all blank areas, take a break, get a cup of coffee and then come back to it.
    • Is it balanced?
    • Does it have extraneous elements that detract from the feel of the image?
    • Does it have specific items that distract from the main topic?
    • Is it pleasing the eye?
    • Are you happy with it?
    If the answer is yes to all of these questions (very rarely...), you are done as far as the cropping is concerned.

    However, most likely you will look at your work and there will be something that you feel you can improve by cropping.

    When I shot this pano, I was trying to capture the small pond in the golf course and after looking at the image for a while I realized the trees on the right were a distraction.

    I thought it would be a much more interesting photo by having the contrast of the dark pond surrounded by the vibrant green grass.

    The trees in the far left were interesting as framing points of reference, but were not the reason why I shot the pano but at least they had a "role". Not the primary role, but they needed to stay.

    The path, I debated with myself to keep it or not. Tried it with and without it and ended up keeping it.

    The final result is this after some PWL and sky replacement...

    What you think?
    Would you have cropped image 3 differently?
    And why?


    Cropping is truly an art. These folks can explain much better than me the magic that happens when you crop a photo appropriately.

    • byRo
      byRo commented
      Editing a comment
      Frank, I think cropping is EXTREMELY important and very often totally neglected.

      Folks will spend hours retouching / enhancing / painting images and not even consider for a minute how much a "simple" crop could improve the result.
      It's not an easy subject, and it's difficult to find good advice.

      One thing that always makes me cringe is when they roll out the "rule of thirds" as being "balanced". Quite the contrary! If you put something at one of the thirds,you'll call attention to the other third. Put something there and you've got balance (and symmetry), leave it blank and it gets uncomfortble.
      Two thirds is 0.6666, golden mean is 0.6180 - it does make a difference.

    • Frank Lopes
      Frank Lopes commented
      Editing a comment
      If you were to crop it using the golden mean rule, how would you crop the image?

    • Janet Petty
      Janet Petty commented
      Editing a comment
      Technically (or not) speaking about the golden mean and cropping...

      I look at it this way. If I draw a square. Then I take a diagonal measurement of that square, draw in a straight line the exact length of that measurement straight along one of the square's sides, I can create a rectangle that is the golden mean. I can take the original square and the resulting two rectangles and continue to break up that pattern over and over with the same proportions.
      Clear as mud? I had a drawing but couldn't make it show up in this post. But I did create a thread in the photography forum. ( )We used to play with the golden mean as an art form in art classes. It was sort of addicting as was designing with the Fibonacci mathematical sequence.
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