Photography is an integral part of nearly everyone’s life. Usually, people want photos of the most important special occasions – weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc – to show them not only to their friends and colleagues, but future generations, too.
A photo has immense value when it’s filled with memories. Thus, the main task of a good photographer is to capture the right moment.
But sometimes, that beautiful moment lasts only a couple of seconds. And it’ll be so easy to miss it; especially, if you waste your precious time on trying to frame your shot perfectly instead of pressing the shutter button as fast as you can.
It’s a big mistake for photographers of any level to prioritize getting the technically correct shot over capturing the right moment. In other words, it’s always better to take a picture that’s ill-framed but depicts an emotional moment than to nail the composition in camera. After all, in the age of digital cameras that produce photos of high resolution, the majority of framing mistakes can easily be fixed with cropping.
How to Crop a Picture to Make it More Visually Engaging
I do family photoshoots, and in my work, I prioritize conveying the emotions flowing between family members. Yes, of course, I recognize that composition is very important, but in my opinion, it can be corrected later in Photoshop or Lightroom. During the actual shoots, it’s crucial for me to capture moments filled with warmth and joy because I want my photos to show “the real thing”. Real love, bliss and care.
For example, let’s take a look at this photo. I noticed this captivating look between the father and the daughter, but I was too far away to compose a shot as I pictured it in my head. Nevertheless, I decided not to miss this moment and took the photo the best I could, then fixed it in the post-processing.
When I got to editing, I already knew how I wanted to crop this shot. I wanted to focus all the attention on this intense look they shared. Also, I decided to convert the photo to black and white, so nothing would distract from this incredible energy flowing between the daughter and the father. As you can imagine, this look lasted only for a couple of seconds. It would’ve been impossible to repeat it – otherwise it wouldn’t have been quite as powerful. It would’ve been staged. But this? These are real emotions. I had absolutely no right to miss this.
Here’s another example. Initially, this was supposed to be an entirely different shot. And frankly speaking, I nearly discarded the original photo because I didn’t like it all that much. I could see that there was something, some kind of potential in it. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. As I started to experiment with cropping, it took me only a few moments to get the version that really resonated with me.
In the cropped version, I like that everything looks harmoniously: the child’s backlit hair is balanced with the hand in the bottom of the frame. In addition to that, white daisies add some tenderness to the scene, which is not evident in the original photo at all. In my opinion, thanks to cropping, I managed to turn an average, unremarkable photo into a lively, attention-grabbing one.
There Are No Hard-and-Fast Rules in Cropping
There are a lot of composition rules in photography: the golden ratio, the rule of thirds, the use of leading lines, frame within a frame, etc. Surely, following them will help make your photos better and much more visually pleasing. However, these rules are not set in stone. No one can stop you from breaking them.
Some photographers still cling to such rules as: don’t cut people’s heads off when cropping a picture, don’t have a tilted horizon, your images shouldn’t be overexposed.
However, nowadays, there’s much more room for experimentation. More and more photographers embrace the fact that it’s okay to compose your shots however you want. Limits exist only in your mind.
Annie Leibovitz, Lindbergh, Helmut Newton are world-renowned photographers. Their works are recognized masterpieces. And yet, they broke the rules quite often.
Here is another photo of mine. The people are positioned in the center of the frame, their heads are not chopped off, there’s enough empty space. Everything seems to be correct, but you must admit that this shot looks plain and uninteresting. But, with just a little bit of cropping, it can be significantly improved.
That’s exactly what I did. I shifted the focus to the gentleness and affection between the mother and the son. I like that in the cropped version the attention goes to the mother’s hand and the faces straight away. Cropping a picture is a great tool as it can help you place emphasis on all the right spots. This will help you enhance the overall shot and convey the emotions in a more impactful way.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that in order to compose your photos well within seconds, you need to shoot a lot and analyze your own works. And it’s better to frame your shots perfectly in camera. But sometimes, even if you can see the best composition, it might just be physically impossible to achieve it during the shoot. I can guarantee you that in your career, there will be situations when you’ll have to choose between capturing a beautiful moment filled with genuine emotions or getting a shot that is technically correct but isn’t strong or emotionally-charged. In my opinion, you should always opt for the first and not the second. In time, you will thank yourself.