Tyler’s Tips Episode 26: The Power of Cropping


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today, I’m going to be talking about cropping.

So why is cropping important in photography? In my opinion, cropping is one of he most fundamental things we do as photographers. We walk around the world, we look at all the things around us, and we decide to cut a rectangle out of that world with our cameras, and that’s cropping. We also have wonderful opportunity to crop our photos again after we’ve shot them, and that’s the part I want to talk about today.

Cropping can be one of our most powerful tools in taking a failed image and making it into a great image, or taking a good image and making it even better. So I’m going to show you a couple of examples to talk through this, starting with this shot that I did during a commercial shoot for Roman Hot Springs, which is a local resort spa. And in this case, the model, Natasha, was … I love this photo. She’s so peaceful and serene and all that, and I think this photo really works. The client loved it. They use it on their website. I put it in my portfolio. It’s a win.

Let me show you the uncropped version. Now this photo, in my opinion, is a failure. The story were originally setting out to tell, which is the story of the husband and wife enjoying champagne in the bubble bath together … It’s a cool idea. And we got some other photos of this that worked, but this one didn’t work, because whenever you’re shooting multiple people, you’re going to have some frames where one person looks amazing, like Natasha in this particular frame, and the other person doesn’t. And that’s what happened to Mike in this frame. I caught him at an awkward moment, and so he looks awkward and frankly a little bit creepy in this photo, so … Sorry, Mike.

But the photo doesn’t work, and it’s not usable in this format. So going back to the crop, we can really see how taking away some of those other elements actually makes for a great photo, anda usable photo. So there you go. One great way to use cropping is to take a failed photo, and if you can, sometimes you can just crop away the parts that don’t work, and you’re left with a really cool image.

So another shot. This is an architectural image that I love, this is one of my favorites. This image … Well, I guess it’s not really an architectural image, but it has an architectural context. It’s this image of this mother and daughter and the interaction between them. I love that story. Now, the uncropped version looked like this. So to me, this is not nearly as strong an image, and the main reason is the ceiling. It’s just very distracting. It’s very contrasty, black and white. It’s got a huge visual mass, and it pulls our attention up to that line, to that line of contrast. And that line contrast is doing nothing to contribute to our story.

In fact, I think it’s really distracting from the story. And so by cropping that out and eliminating it, it makes for a stronger image. Same with the carpet, to a much lesser degree. I don’t think it’s quite as distracting as the top, but it’s still not contributing anything to the story. And it’s also a little bit dissonant in terms of the interior design. It doesn’t sing with everything, where all the other components really kind of sing together. So by coming back to our cropped image, by eliminating the top and bottom of that image, we make the viewer really hone in on the story, in this case the story that I want to tell and I want the viewer to focus on. So this takes a good image and makes it better.

So the last picture I want to show you … or example of the power of cropping, is taking a portrait that I think is a good portrait and works, but cropping way in to make it a really tight, even better portrait. So here’s the finished image. I love the expression. I love … This is Greg, he’s got just this wonderful intensity to this look he gave me when we were shooting. And the uncropped image looks like this. So not a bad image, but the core exciting part of this image, to me, is that look. The intensity of his eyes and his expression, I just love it.

So the context, showing more of his body … In this case, I don’t think it adds anything to what really works about this photo. So by cropping way in, coming back to our crop, we wind up again forcing the viewer to just see what we want them to see, and turning up the volume, essentially, on what, in this case, I think is the important part of the story, which is the look, the intensity of his look.

So there you have it. Couple of different ways to use cropping to help make your photos a little bit stronger. Sometimes it’s cropping away something that totally doesn’t work in an image, and then you’re left with a great image. Sometimes it’s taking a good image and just honing in on it and turning up the volume on the story that you really want to tell.

So, as always, thank you for your time. I hope this was a useful tip. If you have any ideas or questions you’d like to hear me discuss in a future episode, just drop me a line or send me an email and I’ll work it in. Until next time.