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16 March 2008 @ 08:18 pm
To Crop or Not To Crop . . .  

Exhibit 1. Exhibit 2.

Exhibit 3. Exhibit 4.

I must say that not unlike gomeza and one_undone, I was bothered by the grey blurry thing at the left of the photo shown in Exhibit 3 (and shown before in Another photothought from da fredcritter which is where those two good folks commented on it). In the good old days (that is to say, three or four months ago) I probably would have skipped that image and looked for a better one; or at least one that didn’t have The Mystery Thing in it. There are, in fact, other frames on that roll that do contain pretty much the same scene without it. But, well, as I’ve been mentioning a lot in my recent posts, I am at a point where I’m willing to throw at least some of my usual caution to the wind and try some new things. Is that grey blur an Intrusive Awfulness or a Fascinating Mystery? I'm pretty sure it’s the former, but I didn’t feel I could be really sure of that until I’d “hung” the photo—put it up for display—and thought about it for a while. So that is what I did.

Now, rather than suggesting I simply ditch that image and look for another, both gomeza and one_undone suggested that perhaps cropping would be an answer—probably because neither of them know the extent to which I overshoot and only had that image of that scene to go on. It made perfect sense that they each thought cropping might improve it. And to tell you the truth, I think they were right. (See Exhibit 4, which was cropped preserving the original aspect ratio, thus eliminating not only the Grey Thing but also a bunch of the useless water. Another bonus is that the shoreline then settled nicely near a third, which as you all know is where you want to put items of interest in a composition.)

And it was not as if the notion was without precedent. After all, as you can see above, the version of one of my images of Sara I chose to display (back in Another in the Sara series and shown again in Exhibit 2) was a cropped version of the photo shown in Exhibit 1. And, I must say, much improved for it. Instead of adding interest and movement to the photo, all that extra stuff to the left cluttered things up; cropping it out made the whole composition better and provided better “eye routes” for the viewer.

And yet the whole topic of cropping can get rather complex, especially in this boy’s head. You see, most of my photo habits and thought patterns have been formed over many years, and lots of them date back to years and years ago. You know, back when we all had to use film in our cameras. My attitude toward cropping is one of those habits/thought patterns. You see, when it comes right down to it, I really didn’t like spending a lot of time in the darkroom [and, yes, I’ve spent a lot of time in the darkroom over the years. My photojournalism degree, after all, was granted in 1971, back before digital photography was even a glimmer in some techie’s eye. Also, in addition to the darkroom work I did for all my journalism and art department photo classes, I spent about 4–6 months as the darkroom tech for the Minnesota Daily (the UofM school paper). And for the next bunch of years, when I was living in the bozo bus building (and at least for some part of that travelling in furniture so I wasn’t home much), the room that had been a kitchen was a darkroom (at least at night—I couldn’t get it dark enough during the day) and was only occasionally used as a kitchen.]

Anyway, one of the things … see, I could easily have spent hours and hours and hours in the darkroom getting the perfect crop on just one image, what with moving the enlarger head and changing the blades on the paper holder and redetermining the correct exposure … And when you come right down to it, 35mm photography is essentially a “speed & volume” medium (especially in my hands)—I tend to shoot first and ask questions later. Erm, I mean, I overshoot like crazy and then try to edit down to only the good ones.

So those two facts combined way back when and I started thinking, “Why am I spending so darned much time cropping? Why am I trying to ‘salvage’ this image? There’s probably a better one on this roll or another of the rolls I shot at the same time. Let’s skip it.” I also starting thinking about how … hm … even the very notion of cropping affected my work; that if I went around shooting with the thought, “Oh well. If there’s some intrusive element I can always crop it out later,” it was bound to give rise to sloppy work. (As I say, for me. Not necessarily true for everyone.) I rather like the aspect ratio of the 35mm film frame and think it has a certain inherent dynamic to it (even though I’m given to understand that it’s not a golden rectangle), and I figured that if I were to develop the “discipline” of shooting full-frame, trying to compose each shot using the whole of the frame, it would serve me well. A small bonus was that I could file out the edges of the film carrier and expose a small black border around the photo, which kind of creates an “instant matt” or “instant frame” or somesuch when printed at less than the full size of the photo paper. What eventually worked best for me was printing on 8 x 10 paper with an image size of about … hmmm … I just measured two of the prints that are currently hanging on our wall: one was printed 4 x 6 and the other 4.5 x 7; I think the larger one was the exception and my final standard was indeed 4 x 6. Also, I could play with how that black border interacted with the image: sometimes it was “the edge of the window through which you’re looking at this scene,” other times it was “the end of the world—there is nothing beyond it.” The final piece of internal logic driving this decision was the fact that if there was a photo that really, really needed it and was really great and there was no other like it but it had to be cropped to work, I could in fact crop it if I wanted to. It’s not as if working hard to shoot only full-frame images precluded my ever cropping one of them.

[Oddly enough, I’ve probably cropped more of my slides (which were used in what was then called “Da Fred Haskell Song and Slide Show” lo these many years ago) than my prints. I suspect that’s about the reverse of what most people do.]

I'll probably have more to say about cropping in the future, but I believe I’ve gone on at far too great a length already…

Oh. But wait. One more thing to mention, in case you're curious. The other experiment I did with this image was to make a new layer by copying the original image, apply a crystallize filter to that layer, use a gradient to fade out to the middle and delete the top half or so of it, and use it at a reduced opacity to overlay the original image. That added what I think was a somewhat subtle blur to the bottom half (the people and the water) which I thought made an interesting contrast with the sharpness of the textures of the trees (which I enhanced a bit with the Unsharp Mask filter). The thumbs for the images without the crystallized layer are below (Exhibits 5 and 6) and clicking on each will take you to the large versions if you care to see the difference.

Exhibit 5. Exhibit 6.

Current Mood: nerdynerdy
dd-bdd_b on March 17th, 2008 02:23 am (UTC)
There's a third option on the picture of Sara, which might bear examination: clone out the detail on the left (or paint over, or whatever works). Plain white wall, and plain carpet; very easy to duplicate. And then just a *little* baseboard to fake up (I'd lose the whole concept of the stairway if I did this).

That tempts me because the cropped version is coming rather too close to the mirror image being exactly across the vertical centerline; keeping the original composition keeps it closer to center and right 1/3 line.

I definitely think the second is better without the foreground blob at far left. While this particular one is obvious to me instantly (that is, so far I haven't changed my opinion since I first saw it), lots of times the right decision *isn't* obvious to me instantly, and what you say about living with it for a while, usually as a print on the wall but sometimes just as screen background or something, is very familiar, a process I use myself. (I don't for a moment think the cropping decision is usually obvious, or should be obvious to everybody, or whatever, of course.)

I definitely agree with cropping out some of the foreground water. I think there might be a less blatant foreground object there, lower right, as well.

When I was working for the Carleton Alumni Publications Office (the reason I never did photography for any of the student publications, except for shooting senior portraits for people), the editor had me print everything full-frame, because the people doing page layout for the magazines, brochures, catalog, and so forth wanted to crop to fit page layouts. Of course the cropping that displays the photo absolutely best may not be what works best within a page layout, and when I was making the prints I didn't even know where they were going to be used (and those prints are probably still in the files and may yet be used again in historical comparisons or something).

These days, for the web, if I'm doing individual prep on a photo I tend to crop pretty arbitrarily. That's nice (and much easier when I don't have to adjust easels and such to do it).
Matthew B. Tepper: 1968 con Funcon fanasimovberlioz on March 17th, 2008 07:03 am (UTC)
I agree with your idea of hiding the stairway and leaving the photo balanced. What is more, it would leave in that portion of the picture frame, which is enough of a visual cue to say "there's more to this room," and ironically give it more "space."

Just two cents from the worst photographer in the world.
Fred A Levy Haskell: Geri's Fred eyes onlyfredcritter on April 19th, 2008 05:14 pm (UTC)

Actually, I thought the crop was a little too tight my own self but hadn't considered that one of the reasons might well be, as you point out, more space there would indeed be “a visual cue to say ‘there's more to this room…’”. (Nor had I thought about painting/cloning out as much detail as dd_b suggests—I'm still getting the feel of the retouching options available to me in Photoshop and just starting to get comfortable actually using some of them. I think it goes along with the epiphanette about the possible value of blur and abstraction in photography that came to me while reading about Kandinsky.)

Edited at 2008-04-19 05:15 pm (UTC)
Fred A Levy Haskell: Fredcritter eyes onlyfredcritter on April 2nd, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)

David—I've done some "bits" of reply in my most recent post. More to follow as soon as I find time and coherence.

(edited because I pasted the wrong href the first time....)

Edited at 2008-04-02 02:56 am (UTC)