Lesson 3 - Good crop, bad crop

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"There is no better time to crop a bad composition than just before you press the shutter release"

Bryan Peterson

In the first two lessons, we concentraded on composing your images so that you can reduce the unwanted visual clutter, find some interesting angles and then to place your subject in the frame in a way that makes them stand out the most. Today, we're going a little deeper into it and we're considering cropping your images. 

We can't always have the whole of a person ( or any subject for that matter) fit in the frame, so what and where do we chop in order to still get a good image? Should you EVER chop any body parts off?  What makes a good crop? Or a bad crop? 

How not to be a bad (photo) surgeon

Even though it’s bloodless with the camera, please don’t chop off your kids’ limbs willy nilly. It's not that you can't chop anything off ever, but more about WHERE not to cut.

The basics are  pretty straightforward: 

If you can, avoid chopping off your little ones’ hands, feet, legs - more specifically, avoid chopping them off at joints. Basically any place where your body bends or body parts join up together.

Here is why: your brain instinctively knows that the joints are the body’s weak points and seeing an arm or leg ‘visually ending’ at one of those points makes the brain uncomfortable. Our subconscious brain doesn’t like it. But if you leave a ‘hint’ of the body part that was to follow the joint, it’s suddenly at peace. It knows the hand/ear/foot is still there. Happy now.  Our brain has a brilliant ability to fill in the blanks from tiny visual hints, so that little bit of flesh is enough for it to visualise the rest. All of this happens subconsciously of course, but it's enough to make a difference between a good and a bad picture.

So if you want a tight portrait, it’s much better to chop at shoulders rather than at the neck. Better to chop at the hips than at the waist. At mid-thigh level rather than knees. The worse possible chop is when you include the whole body EXCEPT for the feet - it just feels really off balance. 

Here are some good vs bad chops

A chop to the head

I occasionally get asked if it's ever OK to crop into a person's head. Surely, we should do everything to keep the head intact? Erm, no. 

Yes, you can crop into the head. In fact, if you have a choice between keeping your subject filling the frame from edge to edge or cropping into it, it's much better to crop into the head and change the composition. You see, it's back to the 'filling in the blanks' principle. If the subject touches the edges of the frame, we know the subject 'ended' there ( visually speaking' but we don't 'know' what's beyond that, and the edge of the frame is posing us that question. 

But if you crop into the head, taking an inch of the top of the head for instance, the brain knows there usually is the top of the head, and it's just that  the edge of the frame interrupted us from seeing it, so it feels at peace. Our life experience tells us that where there is forehead, there usually is the rest too. 

See for yourself. 

And while we're cropping into the head - don't forget the ears. To our brain, those feel vulnerable too. So when you crop into the head, try to keep at least a hint of the ear in the image ( that's unless you're not cropping so deep that there is no space to keep it in at all) 

The crazy crops

OK, so we gave you the rules for the good old classic crops - paying attention to ensure that your subject is intact in the most visually pleasing way possible. But photographers are forever the rule-breakers, and the 'rules of the crop' are no exception. 

Creative crops can be daring and really exciting. They can draw attention to just one detail or part of your child's environment. They rely on you being able to get relatively clear space around where you crop so pick your locations carefully - lots of clutter will spoil your image. 

Here are some creative, bold crops from our members for some inspiration. 

Lesson 3 challenge

Now that you know the good practice with cropping your subject, I want you to be bold and crop creatively.

Go against the 'classic' composition and chop in places you normally wouldn't.

It's great fun to experiment - give yourself freedom to do something a bit different today!