Most people probably don’t consider cropping for other than “zooming in” on their subject or adjusting the composition a little. That’s what I used to do. But I have learned to use cropping in creative ways, in order to bring out my subject or tell the story even better.
We’re all so used to the 2×3 aspect ratio of our 35mm format-based cameras as well as the 4×5 aspect ratio of the classic 8×10 frame. But these “standards” were determined a long time ago and were set up for general situations.
The world around us does not always exist in these aspect ratios. Although our vision covers roughly a 2×3 aspect ratio, what we actually concentrate on is less like a rectangle and more like an oval, and it changes based on the amount of light available and what we’re actually concentrating on. Night vision for example is very different than fully-illuminated, daytime vision and how much periphery are you noticing when you’re reading a book?
So although most of my images end up being based on either 2×3 or 4×5, I am not afraid to venture outside of this norm. After all, I figure that the vast majority of my images will never be seen in a frame, much less a “standard” one.
Consider this image of an osprey taking off from the water with a fresh catch. I shot it horizontally but I cropped it a little off the top in order to concentrate on the eye, the edge of the wing, and the talons. Some may scoff at the old rule of thirds but it works. It was derived from the brain and not just imposed upon it. It works. The areas of interest in this image are at the two opposing corners and it just works. Without cropping some off the top, the eye wasn’t so prominent as it got a little lost with the empty water above it.
In this image of a flock of avocets at Merritt Island in Florida, my use of a long focal length separated them from the background nicely but this was a very horizontal scene. The sky above and the extra grass and water below offered little to the actual subject and the story I was trying to tell. This was really a panoramic event since the birds were stretched out in a horizontal arrangement and they were flying horizontally so I presented it as such.
To the contrary, sometimes the 2×3 aspect ratio works better than anything else I could come up with. Consider this “as shot” image of a cow and her newborn calf. The long focal length allowed me to fill the frame with the scene perfectly. I was able to get a good balance of all the components at the time the image was acquired.
Although your in-camera composition will likely work for most of your shots, don’t rule out some creative cropping later. Cropping to 4×5 is always a good first alternative but keep an open mind for more drastic vertical and horizontal compositions.
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Featured image: Great blue heron taken at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanabel Island, Florida Canon 1Dx with Canon 500mm/f4 lens and 2X teleconverter