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2 steps overlooked in post-processing -part 1- Cropping

Post processing has always been an integral part of photography; it's taking the image that the camera saw and turning it into what you saw. And while PP has never had so many options through common tools such as lightroom, there are 2 vital steps that I feel are often overlooked, so here's 2 short posts on why cropping and printing are vital to my post processing.


space to work in

For me, landscape photography is as much about what is left out of the frame as what is left in. And when I'm taking a photo I try to leave extra space around the edges of my subject so that I have room to play with. Even though digital photography gives us the advantage of seeing the image immediately, errors in composition may not always be evident until viewed on your computer. Once I see an image on the screen I often like to experiment with the cropping, deciding what to leave out and what to include; do I need all that sky, or is it dead space? Is the dark cliff jutting into the left of the image a distraction from my real subject, or is it forming a relationship with other objects and balancing the image?

When I took this image I knew I wanted a square crop for the final piece, but I left sufficient room around the rock formation to give me room to play with.

original image

My first choice was to apply the rule of thirds and place the rocks 2/3rds of the way down the image, however due to the darkness of the rocks against the subtle tones of the sea and sky I felt the rocks were sinking down, dragging the eye down to the bottom of the frame. I could also place them in the top third, however I felt this cut out some of the tones in the sky which I was too attached to to remove. My final choice was to place the rocks in the middle, balancing out the sea and the sky.

I'm not saying that this is the only way to crop this image, but if I hadn't left some extra space I wouldn't have the options to choose from.

One of the things that was key to this photograph was also how much space remained around the rock, had I gone for any image size other than square, I feel that this would have left too much trailing space either above, below or to the side of the rocks. Which brings me on to the next part of cropping - image aspect ratio.

Aspect Ratio

Most people who are into photography these days have a digital camera with a sensor based on original 35mm film dimensions; all the Canon and Nikon dSLRs are either full frame sensors or a cropped version which produce photographs with a width to height ratio of 3:2. As such, most photographs you see tend to have this aspect ratio. However, I've often found that a square frame (1:1) or 4:5 ratio to be much more pleasing to look at, and find myself thinking in these formats more and more when I go to take a shot.

The shot below of the sand at Dooey point is a good example. I wanted to show the patterns of the sand while retaining the headland and some of the sky in the background and so chose to shoot this in portrait.

On a 3:2 ratio sensor, I would have ended up with an image like the one on the left, which to me is too tall and the pattern in the sand seems constricted by the narrow sides. The image on the right is a 4:5 ratio, the sand patterns have a bit more space to exist in and the overall balance of the shot is much more pleasing.

Aspect ratio is something that is often overlooked when composing a shot or in post processing, I highly recommend playing around with different cropping ratios, you may find that it's suddenly easier to compose a shot knowing that those unwanted bits of scenery creeping into the edge of your frame can be cleaned up with a nicer crop.

And while some photographers might feel that cropping is a waste of your pixels and that it would be better to get perfect composition when you take the shot, it's not always easy to get things perfect on location, light and weather can change quickly and sometimes you just don't have as much time as you would like to get things right. Most cameras these days have sufficient pixel count to allow for cropping without losing any real detail, unless you plan to print very large prints, which is covered in my next blog post - Printing.

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