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Crop and improve your pictures

Free image retouching alternatives to Photoshop

The simplest and perhaps most effective way to make beautiful pictures is cropping

Finger framed girls — Photo by remin.noir

©remin.noir Frame it!

No matter how basic or sophisticated your camera system is, no matter if you are shooting digital or still using film, no matter if you are an absolute beginner or a professional photographer, the real difference between good and bad photographs is mostly dependent on where you place the frame of your picture.

Both a) your point of view (where you place your eye) and b) how you crop the scene are to be taken into account.

Crop the scene in front of you

People at the Milwaukee Art Museum — photo by Tanakawho

Milwaukee Art Museum ©Tanakawho

This beautifully composed photograph, originally in color, is really quite nice as it is.
Yet, we want to try and crop it somehow, just for learning’s sake.

Ideally, cropping a photographic print with a pair of scissors, cropping a digital image by means of any picture editing software or instead cropping the real scene by choosing a lens of a suitable focal length, that all should be equivalent.
However, things in our less-than-ideal world follow different paths, so keep this as a blueprint:

• If ever possible, crop while you shoot by mounting the right lens for your composition or else zooming in/out appropriately.
• As a second choice, crop while editing your digital file. Be very careful with your sensitive data though, which might still be kept in the file.
• All the above failing, try and crop your print with any sharp blade at hand or, at the very least, refine your print by cutting a fitting passe-partout to frame your picture.

What about such a crop?

Imagine that the original image above was captured with a 50mm lens.
Now, in order to frame about half of that picture, if we were the photographer we would need something roughly twice as long, let’s say a 105mm lens, which incidentally is still in the range on the available zoom length for our camera.
This way we could include just the huge “window” and its nice reflection on the floor.

People at the Milwaukee Art Museum — photo by Tanakawho

People at the Milwaukee Art Museum ©Tanakawho

Sure, as we are now in black-and-white, there would be options to play with contrast, burn and dodging, vignetting, masks and other typical tricks of the trade, in order to try and make it look a little more vibrant. But let us just stick with cropping.
What if we want to isolate the small group of people right in front of the window?
If there is no lens available with sufficient focal length at hand, all we can do is trying to shoot a crisp picture and planning to crop at a later time.

  • Shoot by keeping our point of interest at the center of the frame (where better optical quality is expected).
  • Keep the camera firm (a tripod might help) in order to reduce vibrations
  • Set a shutter speed which minimize subject movements
  • Consider to adopt an aperture which is neither wide open nor too narrow: some two stops above maximum aperture usually give the better results

Of course all these suggestions should be adapted to real shooting conditions, and not all is applicable everytime.

All we did here was just cropping the original image, and here is what we got.
The four people are much darker than the other part of the image, but they are not standing like silhouettes.

People at the Milwaukee Art Museum — photo by Tanakawho

People at the Milwaukee Art Museum ©Tanakawho

One word of warning: it is advisable not to rush and compare side by side the newly croppend image with the one it is derived from. Always try instead to consider the new picture as a brand new one, definitely detached and no longer connected to the image it originates from.

Two more examples

Emerald Lake is located in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

Emerald Lake - cropped detail — photo by Brad Smith

Emerald Lake — cropped detail ©Brad Smith

Out of this lake endless crops are possible: here is one.
How would you crop, instead? Post your crop into the comments.

Emerald Lake — photo by Brad Smith

Emerald Lake ©Brad Smith

This rather odd image is an interesting crop of a broad view of a beautiful place called Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia in Trieste, Italy.

Particolare di Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia in Trieste, Italy — Photo by Maurizio (Mao)

©Maurizio (Mao) Details of Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia in Trieste, Italy

Here is where the crop originates from.

Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia in Trieste, Italy — Photo by Maurizio (Mao)

©Maurizio (Mao) Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia in Trieste, Italy

So now?

Now it is time to go creative and let us know your feedback in the comments.
Feel free to post you works below.

You might also wanto to check this page about getting serious about photography and learn cropping.

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  1. By Poonam, on September 14, 2010, at 01:06 PM
    Very interesting photographs….and nice tips.


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