The Crop Revisited
It must have been the first or at the most, the second crit at school the very first semester of the very first year. A student put up their image up on the screen and it was this little, itty pity image. I scratched my head, the instructor just stared. He took the slide out of the carrousel and looked at it, it was all taped up with silver tape leaving this little aperture. All Steve said was, “What, you couldn’t have moved closer, changed lenses?”
I seem to have earned quite a reputation for many things, one of them is having a thing against cropping an image. So I’ll say this right off the bat so you don’t have to read any further if you don’t want to, what anyone does with their images is strictly up to them! I am not the photo police! But when photographers show me their images and ask for comments, then they will get my comments and when I see an image has been cropped (yes, I think it’s really easy to see), what screams through my head is, “Couldn’t you have moved closer or changes lenses?”
Back in the day when I started, submitting prints was on its way out, submitting slides was in. When you create a print, you naturally have to crop an image since paper is not the same ratio as a 35mm slide/neg. Since I printed up a storm, I had to crop and learned how to be successful at shooting for that crop knowing I would be cropping when printing. The print would be the final presentation of my vision. Once printing went away and all I shot were slides, then composition was still done in the viewfinder but that was it. There was no cropping to be done, it was all done.
When sending slides to photo buyers, taking your image and applying the very obvious silver tape to “crop” the slide in the slide mount stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember one conversation with a photo buyer complaining about a photographer who had done just that, sent in their slides cropped with silver tape. All the photo buyer could say was, “You have any idea how stuck those images were in the slide page?” That wasn’t an impression I would ever want to leave with a photo buyer, I could get right in the viewfinder or slides covered with stickem. So what does that have to do with this day and age and digital?
Yeah, you can set a preset with the Crop Tool in Photoshop and crop all day long. And unless you make a print 24×30, you probably won’t see any possible quality loss from cropping. So then why do I not crop my images still? It’s just one of those benchmarks I took hold of that signifies a photographer as, a photographer. It goes along with getting the exposure right and the image sharp when you go click. You compose within the viewfinder and get it right when you go click.
When I look at the work of those who I hold in high regards, Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, Dave Black, Joel Sartore, Wayne Lynch and others, they do all their cropping in the viewfinder as well. I’m sure there are a lot more and there’s a reason for that standard. Arranging the elements in the viewfinder so the subject pops and the rest of the elements support the subject while telling the story, well, isn’t that visual story telling? That’s my definition of photography. There are definitely pros and cons to this standard. The pros are the workflow is simpler and faster (important when you’re in the business of selling images) and quality assured. Cons, the biggest one is it makes taking the photo one helluva of a lot more challenging when you know you’ve gotta get it right when you go click. And when you don’t have it, you don’t go click.
You might have heard I don’t like my images cropped even when they are used editorially. That’s true, I get kinda serious when an photo buyer wants to edit my click. I mean, why buy the photo in the first place if you don’t like it? If you got a copy of my book Captured, rest assured those images aren’t cropped either. I was very blessed in that I had the best in the biz, Jess laying out the book honoring my no cropping request. In those regards, I am totally, completely, out there on my own. I am a nut! And that’s the whole point!
Just because that’s my standard, it does not mean a single other photographer has to follow it. But if you ask me about your photo, heads up. It’s my own quest in being a better photographer, to get it right when I go click. I rather love being able to say, “What you see is what I saw in the viewfinder” when it comes to the crop (landscape & aviation images are often finished in PS. Wildlife images are not). When you don’t give yourself the option to “fix it in post,” photographers push themselves. This always make a better click and the story telling, the subject, that passion of that click becomes clearer and clearer. We all must find whatever the tools, techniques and personal vision at the camera and the computer that work best for you. For me and my photography, that means using my feet and lens to put in the viewfinder what it is I want to communicate to you the passion I’m feeling at moment.