(click on the image to see larger version)
When I got started in wildlife photography I shot slide film (I admit it, I am getting old). One of the consequences of this is that I am very hesitant to crop my images. With slides, what you see is what you get. There was no post production option where the slide could be cropped before being shared. What you shot is what the viewer saw. Today, in the world of digital, we have cameras with insanely high megapixels and the option to crop is readily available. So why do I still hesitate? Truth be told, I just like to the challenge of getting it right in camera. So, I guess I do crop, but I tend to do it before I ever press the shutter.
Now, having said that, lets talk a little bit about cropping. As beginning photographers, one of the pieces of advise you constantly hear is, “fill the frame.” Generally speaking this is good advise because new photographers tend to leave too much space and clutter around their subjects. Simplify and the easiest way to do that is to move in closer. The advise, however, can be taken too far. Look at the above image. What do you think? On the plus side, it is a nice behavior shot with the trunk lifted towards me (she is picking up my scent in case you were wondering). On the down side, I framed the image too tight. The elephant is squeezed between the sides with part of her ear and rump getting cropped off. Her feet are also cropped off as they disappear into the grass. Is the end result pleasing? I don’t think so! This is a photographer that got too close and didn’t have the sense to change lenses (what can I say, I was excited).
So, what is the lesson? When it comes to cropping, I find it best to follow one of two possible paths. The first path resists in camera cropping. Show the entire subject without cutting anything off. Provide enough space in the frame so that the subject has room to breath. Even go so far as to include part of the environment (a crazy idea, I know). The other approach is to crop like crazy. Don’t cut off a little bit, cut off a lot. Why settle for a foot when half the body can be eliminated? While this sounds extreme, it usually works. Cropping off a little bit of the subject (part of the tail) often looks like a mistake, while a significant crop looks intentional.