To Crop or Not to Crop? That is the question...

by Brenda Tharp

Sandhill Cranes in Flight, New Mexico
Sandhill Cranes in Flight, New Mexico
© Brenda Tharp
All Rights Reserved
In the many courses I have taught here at betterphoto, there have been frequent discussions about cropping. Some feel itís NOT ok, others feel thereís nothing wrong with it. Some instructors fall in the first category, others in the second. Whatís really the best choice, then?

That depends upon your intentions and overall philosophy on photography. Letís look at both sides:

The ďno croppingĒ school of thought:

In general, I'm in this category, because of the way I was trained in photography. I learned using print film early on, but went to transparencies soon after starting my business, and there I learned that editors didnít like to see silver tape or cropping masks on the originals you were sending in for consideration. That meant I had to get a lot better at getting the image I really wanted in-camera, so I didnít have an Ďalmostí picture afterwards. Iím glad of this - it sharpened my vision, and my technical skills. I learned to see the real picture within the scene, and how to use my position and my lenses to isolate the subject and make the image what I wanted it to be. This not only improved my skills, but it improved my acceptance rate at the stock agencies and magazines that saw my pictures.

Itís best to get it right in camera because itís an affirmation that our creativity is going at Ďfull tiltí - that our technical and visual skills are working well together. It means we donít have to make excuses for our sloppiness, because we wonít have any unwanted things in our pictures.
There is a common problem with many cameras giving us more than what we see in the viewfinder, and after being frustrated having to remember that, or compose tightly enough to make sure I eliminated things I didnít want in the edges of the picture, I finally just went with 100% viewfinder cameras. But since not everyone can do that, it is worth doing an exercise to see just how much extra you really get, and then learn to compose tighter to keep that extra stuff out.

So, Iím of the opinion that this is the best way to go, but then comes digital scanning and digital photography and image editing! But the facts remain, Iíd rather know what I want up front and do everything I can to make that picture than try to make it work out later by cropping.

The ďcropping isnít a bad thingĒ school of thought:

A lot of people fall into this category, and a lot of students. While I donít ďhang outĒ in this group regularly, I have been known to crop (OH my gosh!) a few pictures in my time. Why? Because there are pictures that I envision as a great panorama image, and Iím working with 35mm ratio. Because some patterns and designs work really well as a square image, and I donít own a Hasselblad. I used to walk away from potential pictures because they didnít fit the ratio of the 35mm, but these days, thatís changed. Iím an artist - and that means self-expression is unlimited!

Although I donít agree with using that philosophy as the excuse for having made a sloppy picture, I can use it to explain why I made something off-ratio. There are a lot of great pictures out there that donít fit the 35mm ratio. So, as long as I have an artistic plan before I make the image that will define the shape of it, thatís OK for me. But if I find myself cropping afterwards because I Ďdidnít get it right in the first placeí, thatís not OK -for me.

There you have it - thoughts on the never answered question of cropping. I hope that you will all see the value of learning to see the image before you make the picture, rather than afterwards. But if you want something different than the format you are using allows, and a post production crop is going to give it to you, then crop away!

Article by Brenda Tharp. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at