Three men, a dog and a boat appear in a photo at sunset… Stop me if you heard this one…
Determining the story we need to tell and then eliminating all that fails to tell our story is the first step in determining what to crop. It is like the old story about sculpting. How do you carve an elephant? Get a block of stone and cut out anything that doesn’t look like an elephant. Cropping is much the same.
Today’s Crop Shop victim is a shot of a tranquil beach sunset in Costa Rica on last season’s Worldesigns Photo Costa Rica tour. At first glance it looks like a picture of three buddies enjoying a sunset. The ocean tide rolls out as a ship sails by. Drinks are in the sand and a dog lays nearby. A dog?
Photos are stories. We use image editing to help us tell the story. Maybe my story is about a dog and not about three beach buddies. Let’s take this image into the crop shop and see what the cropist can do to make this picture about a dog.
What is important to me here is the story of the dog. Looking at the image you can see that the dog is practically lost in the drama and clutter of the scene. This was a grab shot at from a distance and I didn’t have time to zoom in with my feet and get the shot of the dog. In fact, when I took it, I didn’t even notice the dog. Now I want the shot to be centered on the dog. Had I noticed him, likely he would have moved, or at least reacted as I approached.
Well, I don’t need all that great sky. I love it but sky isn’t about a dog. There is plenty of unnecessary space right and left. My first crop attempted to reduce the sky and the foreground. I took off about 25% of the image vertically, 15% from the top and 10% from the bottom. The men seem to come more into prominence but the dog is still lost. If you look at my scribbled analysis image above, you can see that I felt that the man on the left added little to the image. He is separated from the others, the dog, the boat and is looking left-off frame. I figured a vertical crop would take care of that.
Cropping the leftmost person from the frame makes for an ok composition but the dog is still lost in the clutter. I have been loath thus far to crop off that delicious orange sunset. As a result, the dog remains lost. I need to get tighter. I need to make that dog more prominent in the frame. The sky has got to go.
Sacrificing the sunset, I move in tighter, taking out the beach foreground and most of the sky. All of a sudden, the dog begins to appear-though not necessarily at first glance. The right-hand figure is close to the edge. I can’t crop out his distracting red cup without cutting off his elbow. I realized at this point that each closer crop improved the dog a little. I decided to go tighter yet.
Taking off more beach and more sky and coming in tight on both figures brings the dog closer. He is starting to emerge from the picture. We are starting to lop off parts of people now and that can be awkward. Perhaps I am too sentimental about leaving the boat in place. If it is about the dog, do I really need it?
Taking it in further yet, I eliminate the heads and arms of the two men. They become more background elements now and we start to cease viewing them as people. The dog is the only figure left. Our focus is locked on him as we first scan the image. Now, finally, the picture is truly about a dog. Our pixel dimensions on the final crop are roughly 1350×700. That is a passable 4×6 print or a full screen PowerPoint™ slide. But if we need a picture that is only about a dog, we have succeeded.
Isolation is eliminating all else of importance from the subject. I think I have succeeded. Other cropped versions along the way may be more pleasing images-no argument-unless it is about a dog.
Rikk Flohr © 2010