2.2 Cropping - the most critical step

Cropping is one of my favourite subjects. It is a practical tool to zoom into an image and change the aspect for different printing or posting options. Most importantly cropping helps to recompose an image to better communicate our photo intention, story and creativity.

For those of us that struggle with creativity, composition guidelines help us identify and learn how to position different elements in an image changes how they interact and our eye moves around an image.

Steps to crop an image in Snapseed

Example image starts at 5 minutes 50 seconds in the above video

This example image is the pier at Point Lonsdale in Victoria, Australia.

1.    Tap on the pencil icon

2.    Top on the Crop icon

3.    Swipe left and right on the aspect on the bottom of the screen

4.    Tap on an aspect ratio or the Free option to manually set the crop

5.    Tap and drag the corner to reduce the size and zoom

6.    Tap and drag on the centre to move and position the crop

7.    Tap on the tick mark when you are happy with the crop

Zooming

The wide angle of the smartphone cameras allows you to capture more context, then later zoom in to crop and recompose it. Zooming in at the time of capture can result in missing out on the context for storytelling. 

The benefit of zooming could be to get closer to the subject, isolate the subject and fill the frame. Portraits can be so much more intimate when they are close up.

Aspect

Cropping to different aspects is suitable for different outputs. 16:9 is perfect for display on a TV. I crop to this horizontal, landscape to display most of my images on the TV. A square aspect may benefit your Instagram feed. You may intend on printing and have a particular frame dimension to print. 

Border control

When you're cropping, cast your eye around the edges of the photo to identify any blobs or light, colour or object awkwardly cut off. These will direct the viewer’s attention to the edge and out of the photo onto the next image. A simple re-crop could remove a distraction.

Composition

This process affects the attention, response and direction that the viewer ‘reads’ your image. Cropping allows you the opportunity to recompose an image and consider some of the following compositional guidelines:

Rule of thirds – The grid/gridlines option on your smartphone provides a tic tac toe board overlay consisting of two vertical and horizontal lines. This provides the visual aid to position your main subject off-centre. This creates (negative) space around the subject for the viewer to notice the surrounding context of the story. The sweet spot is to crop the image to place the main subject (duck eye) on two intersecting lines.

Leading lines – We covered the importance of leading lines in module 1.4. Existing or introduced lines within the image can pick up and direct the viewers’ attention around the image. Cropping the image can change the effectiveness of the start and end point location of that line.

Visual tension

The position of the subject and space around it can dramatically change the aesthetics and feeling of the image. Cropping the subject close to the edge can introduce visual tension. This can be a good thing to grab viewers’ attention. It can also have a negative effect. Close contact with the edge can leave us imagining what it would look like having more space or wondering what is beyond the edge of the photo. This works if our intention is a create mystery and intrigue, forcing the viewer to use their own imagination. This can have a more negative impact in a calmer, more relaxing seascape image.

Symmetry and balance

Repositioning the crop to place the prominent subjects in a position of balance can be a more aesthetically pleasing image. An example is a large tree poisoned opposite a building producing similar heights within the image.

Isolating the subject

Cutting sections out of the image can isolate the subject from a distracting background. A prominent subject produces a clearer message and is easier to interpret in the image.

People

Cropping in closer can produce a more intimate feeling and familiarity with the subject. It makes their eyes closer, enabling that contact with the viewer. Another consideration cropping people is avoiding those awkwardly cut off hands and limbs. 

Remove distractions

Distracting subjects, speckles of bright light can be removed from the edges by cropping a little tighter (closer).

Conclusion

Cropping is one of the most transformational steps in photo editing to change the look and feel of an image. There is no right and wrong answer to cropping. Simply experiment and attempt to understand why the image is working for you.

It would be great to see your before and after images shared below in the comments. An app like Pic Collage (iOS and Android) or Frame Magic (iOS) are great for creating a side-by-side comparison of the two images.

Discussion

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