Cropping Your Photographs:

Tips, and mistakes to avoid

Author: EmilyiPhotography Tutor

Cropping can make or break an image. It seems like such a simple step, but a little extra focus on how you crop can push your photography skills to the next level.

In this article, we’re going to cover two elements of cropping:-

  • In-camera tips — framing your image and paying attention to the little details.
  • Post editing — how to crop your images effectively in editing or remove distractions.
a woman standing in a door cropping photography example

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

a bad crop example photography

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

As you can see in the example above, the photo is much more balanced and appealing in the image to the left. Cropping off hands or feet can be distracting and ruin an otherwise good image. We will also learn the best places to crop limbs in an image if you have to.

In-camera cropping: how to de-clutter your images

Making clear decisions about your cropping is important for any genre of photography, but let’s look at some landscape photos first.

(get some landscape photography tips here!)

As well as thinking about the usual compositional techniques such as the rule of thirds, and leading lines, it is also best practice to quickly check the edges of your image for any distractions. Ask yourself:

  • Have I chopped something in half at the edge of the frame?
  • Would this image work better keeping this element in, or removing it entirely?
  • Does this element add to the image, or distract from it?
yosemite national park hikers walking a good crop example

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

yosemite a bad crop example cutting people out of the frame

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

The main subject of this image is the mountain. The leading lines are strong, the composition is great. But the hikers, even though they’re small in the frame, make a huge impact on the rest of the image.

The people add a sense of scale and tell a story of the place. If we crop these little details out of frame, the image overall becomes much weaker.

Mistakes like this happen more often than you’d think! We’re often so excited about the scenery and the main subject that we might not pay attention to little details.

Get into the habit of scanning around the edges of your frame before you click your shutter. This one-second check can make huge improvements in your photography!

footsteps in sand cropping photography tutorial

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

Colorado riverbed sand footsteps

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

In the example above, the footsteps work as a leading line into the image. They tell a story of how isolated the place is. In the image to the right, with the closest footstep half cropped off, it makes the effect much less pleasing.

Taking care to keeping elements fully in frame (or fully out of frame!) can have a huge impact on the overall feel of the image.

Cropping in post: How to remove distractions

Getting things right in-camera should always be your aim. But this doesn’t always happen. We’re all human! Luckily we are blessed now with options to correct our mistakes in editing. This can take the form of a simple crop change, or you can digitally remove distractions using clone tools or the content-aware fill in Photoshop.

In this example below, cropping would have made the composition less strong. The image would lose a lot of the grandeur that makes it so appealing. Luckily, with a little Photoshop wizardry, removing the distraction was simple.

yosemite viewing spot cropping example

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

removing distractions image example yosemite national park

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

Sometimes, cropping in will work just fine. The image below has the same sort of distraction and, in this instance, cropping in worked perfectly well. This will differ from image to image, but it’s great that we have the choice of either method at our disposal.

removing distractions from images example trees

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

trees in yosemite national park

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

Tips for cropping portraits

A portrait image is quite simple in the sense that it has one very distinct subject. To make a portrait effective, we’ve got to make sure that any other element in the image adds to the story, rather than distracts.

It is also important if we need to, to crop limbs in the correct places. A popular rule is:
Never crop a person at the joints. 

So this means no cropping at the knees or elbows. Something above or below is usually much more pleasing. Let’s see an example!

On the left image below, we see a crop above the knees. This seems more natural and doesn’t distract the viewer. It looks deliberate.

On the right, however, when the image is cropped at the knees, it gives the viewer a feeling that something is missing from the image. Where are her legs! It feels like an unnatural place to crop the image.

a portrait in liverpool centre

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

portrait in liverpool street crop example portrait tips

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

Let’s see another portrait example.

In the image below you should clearly be able to see how distracting it is to crop half of the model’s feet out of the frame.

When we are concentrating on the face and the eyes, it can be an easy mistake to make. Check your framing every time to avoid making these sorts of mistakes.

(check out some portrait photography tips here!)

a good portrait cropping example a woman by a broken piano

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

a woman by a broken piano a bad cropping example

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

Headroom

Headroom is something we should always keep in mind. This is a very simple concept, and it can make your images so much stronger.

Leaving headroom means that your subject has some space around it and it isn’t almost touching an edge. Most of the time we don’t want our subject to get too close to any edge of the frame. Leaving a bit of space around the subject makes the composition feel deliberate and makes the image more effective. See an example of this below. The second image is more balanced and pleasing.

macro photo of a dandelion

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

dandelion a bad cropping example photography tips

Credit: Emily – iPhotography Tutor

Summary

Cropping distractions out of our images is a vital skill to learn.

If you get into the habit of quickly checking the edges of your image before taking a photo, your photography will improve and, better still, your editing process will be much faster.

Headroom is also something we should keep an eye on to make sure our subjects aren’t lost in the frame. In some photography genres, like portraiture, it is easy to make sure your subject is central, but other forms, like macro photography, can be a bit more tricky.

Master cropping and you’ll be well on the way to creating more deliberate, pleasing images!

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