Sometimes we just know, in advance of taking the shot, that we are going to crop it to the max. Prepare for it.
I was shooting in support of the Presentation Summit in San Diego last week when I stumbled across a bird sanctuary on my hotel grounds. The placement of the perch and the fence as well as my limited gear available and very poor ambient light meant that I would be compromising. There would be no depth of field today.
As I framed up this shot, I knew that the bird’s eye was the key to the photo. I also knew that an abstract of the patterns around its eye were going to be supporting cast to the eye itself. With razor-thin depth of field, I concentrated on catching the bird with as much of its head in the same distance-to-lens range as the eye. Fortunately I had a camera with megapixels to spare. I knew I could crop down to get the image I was after.
After porting the image through Lightroom, I set about making a crop. My criteria were:
- Limiting the area of the crop to maximum depth-of-field region
- Keeping the eye the center of focus
- Creating an interesting abstract around these elements
A severe crop rotation allowed me to place the eye on a rule of thirds and maximize the area of the bird in the crop. A nearly square aspect ratio allowed me to capture the maximum area of sharp focus. The angle also served to increase the abstract feel of the image as it created an angle not usually seen when viewing a macaw up close.
The final crop show here has just the effect I was looking for. It is abstract, sharp and well composed. The detail is exquisite. You can see individual feathers, the sky in the catch light of the macaw’s eyes, and the little cracks and peals on the bill. As I look at it now, I see it has an almost elephant feel. I am struck by how similar this looks to a close up portrait of an elephant’s eye, albeit with the brilliantcolors!
I have to give props to Laurie Hernandez of Worldesigns Photo Costa Rica Tours for this crop idea. In April, she and I photographed wild macaws near the Arenal volcano and she made a similar crop of one of her captures. Impressed by it, I flattery her with my imitation here. Given the large number of capture megapixels (21) and the remaining crop size in megapixels (3), we have managed to isolate an very small portion of this image into an effective new image.
When you plan for a severe crop like this at time of capture you need to make certain of a few details:
- Sharp focus on the critical area
- No camera shake (tripod or high shutter speed)
- Put the end target in the lens’ sweet spot for maximum quality
- Work the focus planes so that you get a maximum area of sharp focus (in this case, moving around the bird and waiting for a head turn accomplished the task)
- Try different rotations in your cropping software
If you plan for ultra-cropping in advance, your results will look like you expect and make for some stunning imagery.
Rikk Flohr © 2010