Creative Cropping

Author:  Amy Horn

Although my goal for every photo is a perfectly composed image, I like to use the cropping tool in post-production to create stronger compositions. Over the years this process has helped me “see” the stronger image prior to shooting which results in stronger final compositions. Cropping a little or a lot can add emphasis to my subject that might otherwise have been vague.

Photo Aug 09, 3 29 18 PM

This first set of images are of a large sunflower that recently blossomed in Flagstaff. While I was shooting the sunflowers I noticed the ladybug on the stem and thought the contrast of the red and green would make a strong subject. The slight breeze moving the sunflower made capturing this handheld image a challenge. Movement like this can make it difficult to capture a sharp image. So, I used my other hand to steady the flower and positioned the ladybug in the center of the frame to make focusing easier. At 1/500 sec, f/8, 200 ISO and 105mm (macro lens) I captured a few shots using burst mode. After downloading, I chose the sharpest ladybug and began cropping. Since the image did not have a clear horizon line, I felt comfortable rotating the image to utilize the corner of my frame and a strong diagonal line to lead viewers through the image. I felt cropping and rotating added strength to this image.

The second set of images were captured at Government Prairie outside of Flagstaff Photo Aug 09, 3 30 51 PMusing a tripod. I love the fragile thistle weed going to seed and was looking for a different perspective. So, I focused only on the top half of the weed. Unfortunately, a lighting storm was approaching so we cut this shoot short and I chose to work on the composition in post. I would have preferred to reshoot this tighter on location but, I took what I got at 1/30, f/9, 200 ISO, 105mm macro lens and a wired shutter release. In post, I cropped tighter to make the thistledown the subject and emphasized the white fluffy seeds without distractions.

The set of frog images were difficult to capture. It was post sunset and I only had my Nikon 70-300mm lens, Which isn’t a fast lens. So, I increased my ISO to 1600 and shot quick to avoid the attacking mosquitoes at Flagstaff’s Francis Short Pond. Again, handheld at 300mm I slow released my breath and using burst mode fired off several shots. To have a proper exposure, I was at 1/125 sec and f/5.6. I did break the standard rule of thumb by using a slower shutter speed than 1/lens length (1/300) but I was able to make it work because I used burst mode and let out my breath before I pinched the shutter. The final image has a slight shift in white balance and a clarity adjustment in addition to the crop. This crop was about a tighter image so that the viewer would have less background distractions.frogs final

Using post processing software to crop an image has taught me to be a better photographer by creating images with a strong subject. If you haven’t “played” with your images, give it a try, it might make (or help) you see things differently!

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view or