Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

January 16, 2009

The limits of Cropping

Filed under: Birds, composition, style, surprise results — Tags: , — richditch @ 5:01 pm
American Wigeon - tight crop

American Wigeon - tight crop

There’s a school of thought that if a photographer is really good then the image will be composed perfectly, using every bit of the frame, and there will be no need to crop the image. This elitist philosophy may work in the studio or with carefully controlled set ups in the back yard, but the reality of wild subjects not under control of the photographer means that some amount of cropping  will improve almost every image. The real issue then becomes: how much cropping should anyone use and when will the image quality degrade too much as result?

My personal working methods are to shoot a bit “loose” and not compose tightly. This allows some flexibility for the subject to move around, stretch a wing or neck, etc. but I also believe that “every pixel is precious” if you are really concerned about overall image quality (that’s something I borrowed and modified from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, by the way).

I haven’t crunched the numbers to calculate the average amount of cropping that I do, but cropping away 20% is not uncommon (it doesn’t take much to take off 20%). I get nervous if I crop as much as 40% away, and I know I wasn’t close enough if I crop as much as 50%.

But I’ve had a couple of surprises, like this American Wigeon. I’ve said before that I like strong graphics in an image, and this tight crop of the head and reflection of the head-on wigeon shows why. The surprise is that the cropped image is only 18% of the full 10MP frame from my D200 – I cropped away 82% of the image to get this.

American Wigeon - full frame

American Wigeon - full frame

Normally, this wouldn’t work. I think what saves it is that the bold pattern on the head gives the illusion that I haven’t lost a lot of detail, even though I have.

I certainly don’t recommend this extreme of a crop, but sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised when it works out.

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1 Comment »

  1. What an awesome shot. I totally agree with you on cropping wildlife photos and also adjust images if need be. We use all this technology in our cameras and lenses, why not use some software to aid us?

    Comment by Owlman — January 19, 2009 @ 12:33 pm


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