Tips to Make Better Images : Cropping

I like to think that we all work hard to get the image right in the camera.  Sometimes we are more successful than others.  Sometimes what we see at the time of capture just isnt what we want when we come to the editing step.

Over the years working with students, weve all learned that one way to re-see an image is with a set of cropping tools.  You can do this with cardboard, paper or whatever but my recommendation is go to the art store or framing shop and buy an 11x14 matte with an 8x10 opening.  I prefer black, but you pick whatever you like.  When you get home, cut the matte in two on the diagonal.  Now you have two L shaped pieces of hard card to play with.  Display the image full screen and hold your matte pieces up to it, moving them around until to you create a composition you like.  Now make that crop in software.

But wait!  If you are using an editing program that allows you to make a virtual copy do that before you apply any crop.  A virtual copy takes negligible space and basically makes a new working platform.  I use Virtual Copy all the time so I can experiment, a big part of my digital darkroom life.

Now when you crop a virtual copy, you have both the original and the cropped version.  In some recent sessions with some photographers who have selected me as their mentor, weve discovered multiple crops that all worked better than the original, in the opinion of the photographer.  And thats the only opinion that really matters.

So try this at home.  Find an image that you expected more from.  There was something special when you captured it but the computer version just doesnt have it, whatever it was.  Make five virtual copies and use your new highly sophisticated and oh so expensive cropping tools and make five crops that please you more than the original.  Cant find five?  Find two.  And remember this secret, you already have one, the original frame.

I will go so far as to say every image benefits from cropping, without exception, and if you understand what I said earlier, you realize that I am right.  So before you discard that image that you really thought would be something, try cropping it.