Traditional output sizes seldom match the best crop for your image. When you crop for content to make your image the strongest it can possibly be, you run the risk that you will end up with a size for which no frame or mat can be found. Sometimes we have to think about our end result in our in-camera framing so that cropping conundrums can’t take place.
This is a shot of a Lunar eclipse taken at Split Rock Lighthouse along the shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. Both the moon and the lighthouse were difficult to arrange owing to the deep snow along the shoreline. As I adjusted the original 3:2 capture, I decided I liked a panoramic crop ratio of 2:1 much better. The finished crop is the image you see above.
All is well and good until I put the picture up for sale. People started ordering 4×6 cards, 8×10 prints and other sizes which failed to match my chosen 2:1 crop ratio. This is the problem everyone faces. Family photographers often find the dilemma when they shoot large groups of people. They fail to account for the finished aspect ratio of the print when they are framing the shot in their differently aspect ratio’d viewfinder. When image and output don’t match you are left with precious few options.
Option 1: The Letterbox
Letterbox is a term we commonly hear when talking about adapting wide-screen movies to the 4:3 aspect of our television. Even the 16:9 newer televisions must have a choice of distorting the image or letterboxing in many cases. Letterboxing preserves your original intent but will ultimately force you to find a special frame and mat. If you are selling this image for a calendar, for example, they might not find letterboxing acceptable.
Option 2: Recrop the Image
You can cast your artistic vision aside and go back to the beginning and rework your image forward from an 5:4 perspective. Depending upon your editing software and your workflow, this can be a minor inconvenience or a complete do-over. I know that as an artist, I do not like the crop to produce the 8×10 nearly as much as I like my original panoramic vision. The image just isn’t as strong and the customer may balk, complaining that is the image they wanted. We can’t have it both ways.
Option 3: Lop Off the Ends
Dead space on either end can be eliminated. Of course when you have two subjects separated by this much dead space in the middle, it looks awkward. The lighthouse and the moon are both in danger of falling off the edge of the frame. This is a picture of a hole – a hole between a lighthouse and a moon. To me, this is far worse than the recrop in Option 2.
Option 4: Sacrifice One to the Gods
If you want to maintain the approximate vertical framing you had before, you can sacrifice one of your outlying subject elements. As you can see from these two attempts the lighthouse survives on its own far better than the moon. It is all well and good for lighthouses and moons but what if it is Uncle Larry on one side of the family picture and Uncle Bob on the other? Who gets the axe?
Option 5: There is no 8×10
It is ok, Neo, to maintain to your customer, that the image is only available in 6×12, 8×16 and 12×24 sizes. That is your choice as an artist to force them to accept your vision (and the framing woes that accompany it). “Mr Customer, if you insist on an 8×10, I can give you a letterbox, a recrop, which will look different, or you can take 6×12 and get the image with which you are enamored.”
Option 6: Magic
There is another option that might just work and give everybody a vision closer to what they want. We will cover that in the next article with a video tutorial.
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Rikk Flohr © 2010