Get Better Photos from Careful Cropping

Crop your photos for maximum impact -- but be careful not to go too far.



Steve Brisco, Fort Wayne, IN

The Problem: A lovely shot done with good technique, but our resident nitpickers weren't happy with (what else?) that horizon line placed just about dead center. That's not necessarily terrible in itself, but combined with the big, empty expanses of sky and water, it tends to make the picture feel static.

What now? This picture fairly shouted "panorama!" to us, so that's what we did: We cropped to give it a panoramic effect, placing the horizon about two-thirds of the way down in the frame in doing so. (We could have done it the other way, showing more water than sky -- what do you think?) While we were at it, we noticed that the predominant blue color makes the shot almost monochromatic. So we added a little warmth via the 81A filter under Adobe Photoshop CS2's Photo Filter Adjustment, which is just enough to add some golden highlights in the clouds and their reflections.

Next time: Photographers justifiably love wide open spaces, but as the saying goes, too much of a good thing... Cropping from top and/or bottom, by subtracting empty space, can help concentrate details and strengthen the overall effect. Look for what creates dynamism in the picture -- with sunsets, it's usually the sweep of clouds and horizon details -- and focus the composition on that.

Tech info: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT on tripod with 12-24mm f/4 Tokina AT-X Pro IF DX lens, 1.3 sec at f/22 through polarizer, ISO 100. Small tweaks with Photoshop CS Curves to darken sky.

Before After


Michele Julum, Sammamish, WA

The Problem: What a busy, busy, busy shot! Resourceful work by the photographer (she didn't have her tripod with her, so she braced the camera on a walkway wall for a long exposure of Victoria harbor in British Columbia, Canada), but the resulting horizontal doesn't have a main subject. Bright highlights and lots of detail further distract from any real center of interest.

What now? We went with a radical crop to vertical to concentrate on the tallest boat, which now makes for a more defined near/far composition with the cityscape in the background. This also helped to eliminate most of the brightest hot spot to the right of the boat. We used Curves in a Photoshop CS2 adjustment layer to darken the foreground somewhat, and did some cut-and-paste and cloning to further eliminate distracting detail. (Note to our Canadian friends: Absolutely nothing personal in getting rid of the flag -- we just wanted to show more of the water unobstructed. Honest.)

Next time: Sometimes you get stuck by circumstances with a certain composition or angle of view, but don't forget you can always crop later.

Tech info: Hewlett-Packard Photo-Smart C945, braced on a wall, flash cancelled, 4 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100.

Before After

Monica Boorboor, Paradise Valley, AZ

The Problem: OK, OK, we know we're always telling you to crop in close to the main subject...crop in to eliminate extraneous detail...crop to create a panorama effect...crop in to offset a centered composition. But can you overcrop? Here the photographer moved in tight (usually good), and afterwards did some liberal cloning to eliminate background clutter, which worked to focus attention on the surfboard and the license plate. But the Fix Team thinks that maybe backing off just a bit to include more of the surfboard would have been more striking visually.

What now? Since this was cropped tight in camera, there is no way to add more, which leads us to our next point...

Next time: Take lots of shots, from various angles as well as different distances and/or focal lengths. You can always crop in later, but you can't "crop back."

Tech info: Nikon D100 with 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G Zoom-Nikkor lens, f/8 on program, ISO 200. Enhancements made in Photoshop Elements 4.