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. 

Cream of the Crop

Last week Roger talked about cropping and lines.  There are classic rules of composition that all photographers should think of when framing their images.  Here is one of my favorite images. In the past we have talked about the “Rule of Thirds” and it is the most basic of all framing devices.  Just imagine a tic-tac-toe grid on your image and try to place your subject at one of the 4 crossing points.  You really do want to keep them out of the exact center of your image, because people instinctively find that boring. But that is not the only way to think of composition and in Lightroom and in Photoshop; there are easy tools available to assist you in cropping your images for more visual appeal.

When you are in the Develop module, and you start using the crop tool, it defaults to the “Rule of Thirds” grid.  However, you can find a menu on the main menu bar under Tools called “Crop Guide Overlay” and see what other choices are available.  The classic “Golden Spiral” is great for group portraits.  Contain the bulk of your visual interest in the tightest part of the spiral. The strong leading lines on the “Triangle” overlay frame angular images. You can use the keyboard shortcut “O” to cycle through the choices and help as you crop.  As with all things in LR, it is all non-destructive, so you can experiment as much as you like.