Crop photos the right way: 5 classic mistakes and how to avoid them

Crop photos the right way: classic mistakes and how to avoid them

Knowing how to crop photos means getting your crop right both before and after you take the shot. In this easy-to-follow guide we’ll explain the secrets of success.

Crop photos the right way: classic mistakes and how to avoid them

Image by Marcus Hawkins

Even when the shoot is over the image may still not be finished. Cropping can have a dramatic affect on the way we interpret and view pictures of the world around us.

It’s the first stage in image manipulation and begins with what you leave out of the shot when composing photos. In this section we’ll show you how to get the crop right both in-camera and back in the digital darkroom.

Crop photos with a long lens

Crop photos with a long lens

Concentrating on a small part of your subject can often have a much more profound effect on the viewer and say more than the bigger picture.

This welder’s grubby hands make for a great example of how spotting and picking out the essence of a character pays off.

Cropping in so tight can sometimes be daunting, especially when dealing with people, but can be done from a distance by fitting a telephoto lens where you would ordinarily have chosen to use a standard lens.

This shot could have been taken cropped in even closer for even more dirty nail impact.


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Crop photos with a wide lens

Crop photos with a wide lens

Cropping in and shooting specific detail in your subjects can be much more satisfying than just grabbing a ‘record’ shot. This VW Beetle is adorned with plenty of shiny chrome parts, and selectively deciding to crop out the rest of the car gives the image its own identity.

Notice how it’s still been shot with a wide lens? Cropping out detail in your images doesn’t necessarily mean zooming in.

A lot of the image’s impact comes from the fact that it’s been shot wide. Getting close and shooting on a wide-angle lens will take in much more detail than a standard or telephoto lens.


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Crop photos using different formats

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The simplicity of this picture makes it an ideal choice for experimenting with composition and cropping.

A good idea while you’re out shooting is to bag a simply constructed picture like this, get it on your computer and experiment with the Crop tool, making various different crops.

Generally you should stick to crops that are constrained to the format of your CCD or square pictures, as these are the most pleasing frames to the eye.

By all means experiment, but see page 5 of this post for some of the classic mistakes to avoid while cropping and framing photos.


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Crop photos creatively

Crop photos creatively

Image by Marcus Hawkins

A great way to sharpen your eye for a picture is to put some time aside to play with unusual or more creative crops in the digital darkroom.

You’ll soon be able to see what works and how you can get more experimental with your framing in the field.

As well as trying the regular formats as highlighted on the previous page, start getting your eye in for detail shots which still convey the overall message of the original photo, or rotating the crop frame to explore more unusual angles.

Cropping tighter on the shot after the event does reduce your printing options – you’re getting rid of a lot of picture information as you zoom in like this. It’s always better to crop in-camera.


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Classic mistakes when cropping photos

Classic mistakes when cropping photos: slanted horizon

Slanted horizon
A very common mistake most of us make is to leave a cracking landscape shot with a unleveled horizon that’s sloping to one side. It looks like a mistake and the image ends up with an awkward feel.

Using a tripod with a built-in spirit level and a good panning head will ensure you get it as level as possible in the field.

In the digital darkroom it’s a simple fix using editing software to rotate the crop and get the horizon level again.


Classic mistakes when cropping photos: getting cramped

Getting cramped
Some of the best advice in the world is to get much closer to your subjects, but be wary of being only halfway there.

This picture feels too cramped because there’s not enough space around the subjects to allow the picture to breath.

Shooting from a foot further away would have been better. The only other rescue option is to crop even tighter.

Try putting your hands over the top and bottom of the frame – looking better already, isn’t it?


Classic mistakes when cropping photos: too tight

Far too tight
This show jumping picture may have captured the horse in a full-on action pose, but it feels like the poor creature’s going to bang its head on the edge of the frame.

This mistake of framing too tightly on the side where the action is flowing towards really puts the brakes on the movement.

Leaving space to the left-hand side of the frame would have worked much better. Shooting it a little wider all round would have also left sufficient room for a better crop.


Classic mistakes when cropping photos: amputation

Animal and people pictures need special consideration when framing in the camera because it’s important to avoid chopping them off at the knees or ankle.

This bouncy picture of a dog running is ruined by the fact its feet aren’t in the frame, even though it has a good expression and is nice and sharp.

This is one situation where a further crop won’t work. Give it a try. No matter how you crop the image from here, it just doesn’t look natural.


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  • Steve

    When you say the crop sizes were ‘smaller’, do you mean the actual final image size was smaller? And if so, do you mean the physical dimensions of the image or the pixel dimensions? If it’s the physical size, you may have been cropping images with different resolutions.