Friday, February 29, 2008

Cream Of The Crop

Segments Are A True Test Of A Picture's Worth

Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON


As a rule, I don't crop my photographs because I tend to frame them precisely as I want them. In fact, I think I've only ever posted one cropped photograph on this entire blog. But when I did that, earlier this year, I did get a fair amount of feedback with people asking me about the worth of cropping. Quite simply, if cropping your photograph is going to improve it - then go right ahead.

Cropping a photograph is a very simple process. It simply means that you choose to highlight a certain area of the image, while excluding some of it. It's a very handy electronic tool and the "Crop'' function is part of even the most basic imaging software.

I think the term came from the old darkroom technique, whereby you could use an enlarger to exclude a certain segment of a negative when printing it onto photographic paper. The act of leaving out a portion of the image was referred to as cropping.

There is also a school of thought that says the word derives from the old darkroom guillotines, which were used to trim the edges (or white borders) into symmetrical edges after the prints had been processed in one tank of chemicals, fixed in another tank of chemicals and dried. The photographer or darkroom assistant would then take the prints to the guillotine and meticulously trim each one, or "crop" it.

Cropping an image electronically is a simple enough process where (generally speaking) you click on the Crop icon, then outline the segment of the image that you want to retain and then double-click on it to activate and save the image as a separate entity. This leaves the original image unaltered, but "creates" a secondary shot out of it.

I shot this image (above) in Melbourne in mid-2007, during our Australian winter. I've selected it at random to show you how a solitary shot can produce many different variations, using a variety of crops.

CROP VERSION NUMBER ONE

This one (above) turns out to be an interesting skyscape, with a rich variety of colours and lots of cloud shapes being buffeted around by a strong wind.

CROP VERSION NUMBER TWO

This second option gives you a segment of sky, retaining the bold colours, while also adding the silhouette of a couple of high-rise office buildings, some trees and the big ferris wheel at Birrarung Marr.

CROP VERSION NUMBER THREE

There is is a different mood entirely to this crop (above) because you get some sky, some city skyline and the arch of Princes Bridge, as well as two canoes under the bridge.

CROP VERSION NUMBER FOUR

But this (above) is my favourite crop. There is a distinctly brooding quality to this image. When you think about light being a crucial ingredient of photography, consider how little light there is here. It's almost like an old sepia print of some ancient moat, guarded by battlements.

So tell me - which is your favourite crop?

88 comments:

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

Not participating, but wanted to comment. Number 3 is my favorite. Has it all. Excellent. :)

Nessa said...

I really like the original, but of the cropped versions, I like the last one too. Looks very Les Miserable.

Dragonstar said...

I love version four! Very moody.

Nicole P said...

I've gotta tell you David, I prefer the uncropped version, but if you are forcing me to choose. Well then I choose #3.

Casdok said...

2 and 4!
Cropping makes a huge difference!

San said...

I'm torn between 3 and 4. In 3, the ferris wheel coupled with the moody lower area is rather evocative. For some reason it reminds me of one of my favorite Hitchcock movies, "Strangers on a Train."

4 is amazing too. The "abstractness" of it appeals--almost pure emotion.

whodatdare said...

I love the original shot, David, but of the cropped images 1 and 2 do it for me. I think #1 accents the rich colors of the sunset and gives you some depth to the cloud structure. And #2 gives the clods some punch to them.

Monique said...

Definitely the last one.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Hi David, I've just recently learnt about cropping on HP imaging and it's a great facility. You may recall the photo I took recently of Sparky as she jumped in the air to catch a ball; I actually cropped that as Amy was on the picture too and I didn't want her face on my blog. I do think it's a great idea and I've now become Chief Cropper!!

Best wishes, Crystal xx

dot said...

That was an interesting lesson in cropping. I would have never thought of cropping that last part like you did.
I will add you to Mr. Linky this evening.
The doves were shot thru a window with the zoom.

Sandy Carlson said...

I'm loving the first one! Thanks for the history of this term. I enjoyed the post very muchh.

CrazyCath said...

I love the moodiness of crop no.1. I love the effect of the last one - it is almost like a Victorian / Charles Dickens setting. I can see this picture in "Oliver Twist".

I also like the original. The movement of the sky in its colours contrasts sharply with the stillness of the water, which is ironic when the sky is usually what appears to be still and the water moving. Somehow this image has given me an inverted perspective so to speak. Really simple and effective.

happyone said...

What wonderful sky colors!! They are beautiful.
Thanks for the cropping lesson - it's amazing how many pictures you can get out of one picture. My favorite is number 3 - you get a little bit of everything in it.

Kostas said...

Amazing the set, every separately, but also as, is splendid, has prospect, colour, subject, very good corner of reception, generally is splendid!

Julie at Virtual Voyage said...

Number four - the sky is implied;
though the sunsets are memorable.

....son suggested shooting on highest
resolution in tricky contexts to allow for multiple crops (and compensate for limited zoom capacity if necessary)....

Lori said...

I like the last one because you really notice the neat lamp posts. But the first one looks like a lovely painting.

I prefer the original - with all its glory!

Groovy Mom said...

They really do all have a completely different feel to them. I think my favorite is number two. I love being able to see the ferris wheel.

Craver Vii said...

Much as I like the big vat of chocolate oats, my favorite are the top two. The clouds and light are quite impressive.

leslie said...

I like #2 and #4. Love the colours in the sky/clouds - brilliant! But #4 is dark and moody and makes you really look at it. Would make a wonderful abstract painting. I've cropped my photos, too, but never thought about trying to crop parts to see what they look like on their own. Will try it.

BarnGoddess said...

#2.

I try not to crop but end up doing it to at least 15% of the photos I post.

Old Wom Tigley said...

What a great way of doing a Sky Watch post David.
One of the things I like this blog for... and you of course.. is that you go that extry mile. I really get the feeling that you like to help others, you are a genuine guy.. a true gentleman in every sense of the word. This simple lesson speaks volumes about the man behind the post. A true blogging friend to all.
I thank you.

Dave Coulter said...

David,

I vote for #4!

And thanks so much for visiting my site. One more request: can you please send some summer our way? :)

GoneBackSouth said...

Picture 4 makes me feel scared that there is someone sinister skulking in the shadows. But maybe that's just indicative of my state of mind tonight? Anyway I pick number 1: All clouds and no substance.
p.s. I've just noticed you've listed me on your blog list - thank you so much! :-)

leslie said...

Just popped back to let you know I posted my skywatch Friday photo even though it's still Thursday here. I experimented a bit by cropping and then increasing the contrast on the cropped version. I'd appreciate your professional input. Just a first attempt, mind you, so don't be too harsh with me. lol

pat houseworth said...

Like em all....Outstanding!

Jenera said...

Any way you crop it, it's a beautiful picture. I like the whole thing because it is all very contrasting.

Celebration of Life said...

My favorite crop is corn on the cob. ;o)

OHmommy said...

I rarely ever crop. I should play around some more. I like what you did. Esp # 4.... very interesting.

Sue "Sioux" Seibert said...

David, they are all wonderful, but my favorite is number 4. As dragonstar said, "very moody".

Corey~living and loving said...

FABULOUS post David.

AS you know....I do crop. I don't always, but often. Usually, however, it is photos of my daughter or children that I crop. I feel that I have to leave room as she is usually moving, and suddenly she just steps out of frame. I was getting way to many shots that would have been perfect if she hadn't stepped a tad out of frame. I cut off her ear...or her hand.

When doing other types of photography though....I tend to do more framing in camera. I like both ways actually. I see the pros and cons. I like the different challenges both present.

thanks for the great post.
have a wonderful friday.

Daniel J Santos said...

For me they are all excellent.

quinTarantino said...

My favourite is crop number 3; I liked it quite a lot.

Tammy said...

They all look like a different picture so it's too hard to chose....I like them all :o)

Jules~ said...

Okay, before I vote, I must say that when my browser opened to this post my breath grasped audibly. I don't mean that to casually throw a comment around either. That particular shot just really grabbed me.
Which cropping do I like best? Personally, I like the color, the hope, the promis of number 1.

Dottie said...

How do you pick a favorite? They're all excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed the cropping lesson as well. I guess if I were to pick one... I do like the 3rd one as it does have a bit of it all. I'm always mesmerized by your photos! Beautiful!

katydidnot said...

the first is my favorite. i am a cropper, but you're right, there is such honesty in not cropping.

DaddyKaos said...

I too feel that the uncropped photo is the best but would choose number 4 as the best cropped version.

Great shot.

Kimberly said...

I'll take the works, please. What an incredible shot. Such richness and depth. Definitely vying for the coveted position of my very favourite.

Paulie said...

Each has their own distinction but I love the 2nd one best because of the distinctive layers and the ferris wheel is just perfect in that shot.

i beati said...

lustrous color all

Sandi McBride said...

Beautiful, all
Sandi

Autumn said...

I like number 2. I love how the ferris wheel almost touches the sky

Sonia said...

Beautiful! Number 4 is my preferred! Well done!

Janice Thomson said...

I like them all but I do like the original the best but I'm a tad bit partial to sunsets.

Katney said...

I did a cropping post with a peacock photo a few weeks ago. http://katneyskaboodle.blogspot.com/2008/02/cropped.html (You commented on it.) Your explanations here make good sense of what I intuited. You've given a good lesson, and I will, when I can, try to frame my photos to minimize cropping.

I find the fourth crop to be very mysterious.

Outhouse Capital of Canada said...

I also prefer to frame my shot so as not to have to crop, but sometimes use the tool when necessary.
I am not picking a fave from your crops, cropping is a personal choice the same as an art form.

Mushy said...

My taste settled on the first one...nice!

Stacey @Real World Mom said...

Absolutely beautiful!

Gawdess said...

A bit useless of me but I like the uncropped best because it is so alien planet landscape - I like the last crop for the same reason.
Nifty thing to do.

painted maypole said...

fascinating. i think 2 is my favorite... it reminds me so much of the tired joy at the end of a day at the fair.

Lilli & Nevada said...

Well this was a very informative post and i too like the last one

Juliana RW said...

Excelent!

Hope you visit mine also :D Thanks

picturing of life said...

Amazing. You always have beautiful shots.

Will you visit mine Thanks

Anemone said...

This was really nice shots !!!

John said...

I like crop number 4.

Marie said...

Beautiful series!

Angie said...

Hi
Excellent shotss

Pernille's ting og tang said...

Amazing photo from you to day:)

pts said...

third one i selected.but uncroped is excellent

ArneA said...

Very interesting build up of your post. Excellent.
The last cropped is like taken out of a crime movie.
This week absolutely top sore
Congratulation

alexander said...

Lovely photos you have. The colours are amazing. You have great photography skills.

Alexander
Alex's World! - http://www.kakinan.com/alex

Ida said...

Number three. Lovely colours in the sky. :)

Randi said...

wow....i did tried too crop my sky too day , but i did not post the photo.
I liked the original photo most.

'JoAnn's-Digital-Eyes'NL said...

Hi David,
I like playing with programs for photography, so I like the number three and four the most.

From that two ,My favorite is three, because there is some deepness inside the photo, The four I like four the 'secret' in the photo... Welldone!

Greetings from JoAnn
Watch my SKYWATCH friday...

And have agreat weekend!

lv2scpbk said...

I like the first one.

Sharon said...

I loved this series and the discussion on cropping. I found it educational and interesting.

Kerri said...

Oh, I really like them all....but the last one is Superb!

Daryl E said...

If I had taken that shot I would have cropped it as you did with #2 because its a very usable photo, could fit any number of situations. BUT if I were doing it for me, I would have gone with #1 .. just the tree tops because I like the feeling of the tree branches reaching up/stretching to the sky .. what, dear Den Mother I like most is how you show by example ...

Uma por Dia said...

I agree whith you because you got an enterely new prespective.

DeeMom said...

Lovely pictures and wonderful information. As far as picking which one I prefer? I think it depends on the mood one wants to focus on… but them I am an amateur

lissa said...

I like the image as a whole but the varying results of cropping produce such different perspectives that they may as well be different shots.

Those cropped images are wonderful to look at as well.

alicesg said...

The original is very good but the cropped photos are fantastic too. I guess if I am allowed to choose one only, I like the last one.

Petunia said...

It always fun to be a little bit creative!

Berit said...

Beautiful all of them!

Sharon said...

To be honest, I really like the original. :) But if I have to choose, I like #3.

Colleen said...

I love love all the different versions of the cropping effect. it looks great!

Dick said...

Number two is my favorite. Almost evry picture I published is cropped.

Misty Dawn said...

The colors in this photo are spectacular David. I like the original to be honest.

Mike said...

Astounding colours!

LUIZ SANTILLI JR. said...

Very original, I liked it!

Look my sky too at BOA LEITURA

Thanks
Luiz

Mima said...

My fav is the last one, looking at it I wasn't sure if it was wet pavement or water, and actually had to go back to check on the main photo. It does have a wonderful brooding quality to it!

Lee said...

I played around with my display settings because I was having a hard time seeing the water craft in number 3. Even with them more visible I still like crop 2 the best. It has more depth to it than crop 1. The skyline gives interest and emphasizes the distance giving it a horizon. I can see why you like number 4. It has a totally different feel than the others. If I came upon it without seeing the others I would find it fascinating but in comparison to the others I'd pick the brighter image.

Peace!

Travis said...

I really like number 4. Thanks for sharing. I would love to hear any comments or suggestions you would have for my photos. Stop by if you get a chance.

Dancin' Fool said...

Hello! I had to come and see your blog. I have been visiting Sky Watch Friday participants and you have commented on everywhere I have been today! You have been busy! (Me too!)

Your photos are stunning. Bye for now!

Andrée said...

Sometimes I don't know where to crop, so I duplicate a photo several times, make all different crops like you did, and save them all. Later, I'll see which serves my purpose best. It's the best fun, isn't it? Your first crop appealed to me the most with the dimensions of the clouds, the colors. My SWF is here. Thank you.

archiearchive said...

I find I crop because I take a lot of photographs "on the fly" but I also crop because of the limitations of a blog. Trying to fit a 3000 pixel-wide image onto a 470 pixel format often hides or obscures some of the detail which was the objective of the image.

I also enjoy playing with images in Photoshop. A camera is a reporter. Sometimes an image hides a greater truth which can be explained with image manipulation.

Having said all that I love the sunset and the "under-bridge" crops. Both evocative and producing an emotion within themselves. The whole image is a pleasant view at sunset of a particular sight fixed in time and space. The crops provide separate and universal insights into what we feel as we see an image. (I must stop waqffling)

chanpheng said...

I like the uncropped version - there's nice contrast between the horizon and the dark water. Of the cropped versions, I like the mood of the last one.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

#2, and maybe #4. Nice work, as usual.