I may have bitten off more than I could chew in the first edition of Holy Crop!’s ShareCropping Series!
Steven Shor of the Crosstown Camera Club agreed to be my first victim here in the inaugural edition of ShareCropping. He provided me with an award-winning image and one of his personal favorites.
His shot, shown above, was brought to my attention when I judged a recent photography competition. Steve’s image placed as an Honorable Mention. I remember several of the judges and I discussing the image at length with more than one of us commenting that it might have won if it had been cropped differently. Easy to say-harder to do. I asked Steve if he would provide the image to me and let me experiment with it. Can I come up with a better crop?
1. The white space at the top, while beyond the photographer’s control is distracting. It draws my eye from the stunning image.
2. If I move the top down, the artificial horizon created by the receding bluebells moves to the center of the frame and clashes with Dead-center is Deadly rules.
3. The left-hand side of the frame seems heavy. The larger and closer trees seem to weigh down that side of the frame. The lone tree near right struggles to hold the balance.
4. The sunlit tones on the trees on the left side are exquisite. Steve really nailed the exposure here. Also, the tones are leading us (dark to light) back into the frame. That is a compositional plus.
5. The lone near tree on the right has the opposite effect. It points me out of the frame but is not a deal-breaker. Not only that, there are some great branch details on that tree-on the outbound side of the image. I hate to loose those.
Other considerations will be how much foreground green to leave, and which trees are necessary in order to keep this a killer image.
My first inclination is to get rid of the top. I crop down to remove as much of the white sky as possible. I also am conscious of the faux horizon position and try to keep it on the upper rule of thirds line. The image certainly takes on a different mood. I am no longer wandering out of the top of the frame. My eye is draw to two other details now, the afore-mentioned tree on the right and now, the bright spot on the nearest left tree.
There is the slightest amount of color right at the edge of the frame that catches my eye. It is the most prominent red/orange in the shot and I am drawn to it. It is also almost off the edge and that is a problem for me.
I still have a balance issue. Left is heavier than right. So back into the crop I go…
I chop down some left edge near trees and restore balance. The image is fine but I feel I have lost something: Depth. Those near trees on the edge of frame pushed the image back. Losing them flattens the image and reduces the grandeur of the field of bluebells. Compromise is in order.
I add back in one of the larger trees on the left, giving it just a little extra space in which to live. At the same time, I crop out those red colors from the foreground by coming up a little. I feel I still have lost a little depth. I may have to add that back in. I still find I am being driven out of the frame on the right side by that great rim highlight edge on that tree.
Using the right-hand tree as a dark frame edge like on the left, this crop is accomplished. I don’t like it. We have too much empty space in the middle and the image has lost its magic. That right-hand tree needs to be there. I tried putting in more sky to draw us back but it isn’t getting it done. I decided to approach it from another direction.
I went all Panoramic on it. I used a 3:1 Aspect ratio. The benefit was I could make it about the flowers more easily without trying to split time between the leaves and blossoms. I also got rid of that patch of red lower left. (Don’t ask me why-it kept catching my eye). The exaggerated horizontal nature of the image serves to push that lightened right-hand tree edge back into the frame. If 3:1 is good, maybe more horizontal would be better?
At 5:1 the image changes dramatically. Cropping off the bottoms of the left and right hand trees makes the third-tree-from-the-left now the focal tree and it leads us into the frame. The brightest part of the image is center back: too centered and too near the top for my tastes.
I decided to split the difference and try 4:1. I lost the tree on the left and kept more of the lower branch on the right.
I haven’t tried a vertical yet. The subject is so horizontal that I can’t envision it working. The few attempts end dismally. When I get stuck over too many choices I like to flip the image horizontally and reexamine my thoughts. When I do this I often see details I missed earlier and can use them.
Flip that Image
Flipping the image horizontally, I saw an element I’d missed before. Now, on the left, is a tree in the background has the capacity to hold that bright edge. Maybe you saw it but I didn’t. Carefully placed it can hold our eye in frame.
Flipping back, I settled on a slightly panoramic aspect. I set the crop so that the dark trees in the right-hand background could hold most of that highlight edge. I got rid of the sky, left that pesky red in the lower left and put the horizon just below the rule of thirds.
When cropping an image, these are the types of things I consider. Looking back at my Lightroom history on any given image I find that I tweak crop more than any other setting. As you can see from my cropziphrenia here, I had many different ideas, some of which made great images but some which failed miserably.
The problems with Steve’s image are two-fold.
First, he gave me such a great composition to begin with that I was challenged to find my way to a better image. Some are as good, in my opinion but none are markedly better. Some are obvious crop failures but they teach us about the process. The difference is sometimes subtle. To ground myself during this exercise, I kept asking myself “Would those judges have placed this one higher?”
Second, many of the perceive issues I am trying to correct through cropping are best left to some other image editing process. Dodging, burning, cloning can all help. But, as Steve only gave me license to crop, I will leave the remainder of his artistic vision intact.
I like this one. You didn’t see it till now. 2:1 is my go-to ratio. And you know what else? I put the horizon close to the middle-not quite middle but close! Most of the light space above the trees is gone. I left hints of sky-but not enough to drive my eye out of frame. This also allowed for a second wonderful branch to the far right to glow in the sunlight. We retained the depth and the flowers are still the major player. I decided that I had to live with the heaviness on the left side.
There is no right or wrong here. I am interpreting Steve’s image through my eyes, my perceptions, to my tastes. You may prefer another interpretation and there is absolutely nothing wrong with Steve’s amazing original. Any of us would be proud to call this image ours. The point of ShareCropping is to explore the many images within.
But you gotta admit: This 7:1 is pretty cool too! I would love to see this as a big print.
And this 5:1?
These two images exploit the carpet nature of the distant bluebells. That’s the problem with a great image-there are often many great images within.
A big thanks to Steve for being my first victim and making my job a little harder.
And as always, I am looking for willing victims. It doesn’t have to be a killer image to start if we can all learn from it.
Rikk Flohr © 2010
All Images used in this article are © Steven Shor
Steve’s work can be viewed here. I bet he would sell a print of this image too!