Cropping for Artistic Impact

By Mark

It still is strange to me that our camera sensors don’t align well with any of the “standard” photo print size dimensions such as 8x10 or 11x 14.  Full frame sensors do mimic the old 35mm slide format of 24x36.

Lots of sky at the D-Day memorial

Lots of sky at the D-Day memorial

When you are shooting, especially when you are shooting for the purpose of printing, you need to keep this in mind.   I still make this mistake occasionally and have found myself with “too much” subject and not enough boundary space to effectively crop the image into my desired end state.  Although that can be fixed in Photoshop, (another discussion) it is better to have the canvas available when and where you need it.

There are a few basic steps when cropping.  Luckily Lightroom makes all of them easy.  The first thing to look at is your horizon lines.  Human eyes are very sensitive to pictures that lean.  

Sliding to the right?

Sliding to the right?

Everything else can be perfect, but a crooked horizon just activates something in our brains and it will bother your viewer, without them knowing why.  In the crop window, you can choose to eyeball it by rotating the handles outside of the crop frame, but that can’t always get it just right. 

A far easier tool is to just click on the little ruler, find an area in your image which should be horizontal, and then drag the cursor along that line.  

Roof lines are usually horizontal

Roof lines are usually horizontal

When you hit Enter, the picture will rotate and be straight.

That's better

That's better

The second step is then to actually crop your image to meet your vision.  The default setting for the crop tool keeps the original format ratio.  

Crop tool

Crop tool

If you click on the little arrows on the right side you can choose the common ratios for printing.  As with almost everything in LR, you can create and save your own custom sizes as well.   Again, as a default, LR keeps the height and width ratios locked.  If, you wanted to create a very long and narrow image, click on the lock to unlock it. 

Then you can drag the crop handles independently or enter values of your own choosing.  

The crop tool overlay lets provides you other choices beyond the “rule of thirds for composing your image.  

Just select your choice from the tools menu and you can see other standards such as the Golden spiral.  

Look at composing using square images, or to whatever suits your fancy.  

They are recommendations, not laws.  Reminder though, you will have to go back in and reset the crop overlay when you are done. 

Cropping for Printing

When we go to print our photographs just out of the camera we often find they don’t really fit into the frame we want to use.  Frame manufacturers make them in standard sizes such as 5 x 7, 8 x 10, or 11 x 14.  Each of these ratios requires us to adjust how our photos are cropped slightly differently.  None of those sizes represents how the pictures come out of our cameras. Oh, and each camera sensor is slightly different.  It is always a good idea to leave a little extra room around your subject if you are not certain of how you want the final output to appear. Luckily, getting them to fit is easy these days and in Adobe Lightroom ®, doesn’t damage the original. Here is the photo of my daughter Ashley as it came out of the camera.Because I wanted to make both 8 x 10’s and 5 x 7’s I first made Virtual Copies of the pictures.  Because they are just equations, they take up no real space on the computer until I go to output them as .jpg files.

In the Develop Module, the Crop Tool is the very first choice.  You can straighten your pictures as well as change their size.  When you select an image, the crop tool puts a grid on your photo.  You can use the corners to shrink and move the image around.  When you press >Enter, it will resize the photo As with all LR changes, you can restore the original image with just a single click.   The little lock on the right side of the panel keeps the aspect ratio the same as your original shot.  If you want to get creative, simply unlock it, and you can adjust height and width independently.  Here is the result.   One of the great features added in LR3 was the ability to easily go from a 5 x 7 to a 7 x 5 crop, just by using the keyboard short cut of –x.  

This is what you get when you crop down to an 8 x10.  See how it makes the subject larger, while cutting off material on the top and the bottom of the picture.

If you use certain custom sizes on a regular basis, LR allows you to specify them and keep them available for future use.  Very handy, if you like shooting panoramas and want to keep the ratio the same for many pictures.