February 27, 2009

How to take effective photographs - Cropping

It's one thing to read or be told how to photograph well, but it's quite another to actually see samples of why this or that does or doesn't work along with explanations.

One of the secret to stellar photographs isn't just in photography itself alone, but also in knowing when and how to to use post-production tools. Post-production is a fancy schmancy term that means anything you might do after "production" - taking photos. Cropping, dodging, burning, all the classic tools plus a few new ones thanks to the advent of computer digital technology that most of us now have access to.

Take this first photograph for example. It's a pretty good picture. It breaks the "rule of thirds" a little, but that's okay - rules are made to be broken. But how do we make it better? The little details that makes the kid so cute are actually drawing the viewer's attention away. Like the ear, chubby neck and the shirt. The black background isn't too bad, but if we trimmed it down, it would move one's focus squarely where it belong - on this chubbo's face.

Right now, he seems a bit far away and somehow frail. I don't want to convey this...this kid was anything but frail. If anything, he was pretty much in my face, demanding that I give him "the cam'a!" or to open a bag of goldfish so that he could stuff his face. Quite a character.

I cropped this photo along the left and right sides, taking out the ear, minimizing the shirt and the black. I decided to make the photo as perfectly square as I could. Now, because of how this photo was cropped, it more closely follows the rule of the thirds. His eyes pop out more; they effectively command your attention.
I did consider cropping more and making it a vertical picture. But I decided against it - I felt his cheeks were a distinctive feature and to remove them would hurt the photo. Whenever you crop, do it in moderation, little at a time (or be very familiar with the undo tool) and always always save your cropped copy under a different filename, just in case you decide you don't like it later down the road.

Rule of thirds example. Behold my computer drawing skills.
The original photo wasn't strong and distinctive, but cropping improved it. This is why close-ups of people's faces are employed so often in various media. The eyes are a very dramatic and effective way to grab people's attention - windows to a person's soul.

So, to wrap this up...
1. When cropping (or using other tools), keep the feel/mood of the photo in mind
2. Pay attention to the shapes of your subject and consider cropping parallel to the shape. Ie, if your subject is tall and lean, make the photo a vertical one to emphasize that.
3. While cropping, keep the the rule of thirds in mind - but don't follow it strictly.

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