One of my favorite authors is Patrick McManus, the outdoor humorist. His writings and philosophies have had a profound influence on my life. What does good ol’ Pat have to do with today’s article? He wrote about a topic once where he was having psychological issues with visions of nude animals in an age when everything was tagged and radio-collared. Pat longed to see animals nude again, as they were meant to be. Grab a copy of A Fine and Pleasant Misery and check out “I’ll never forget old 5789-A”.
Back to today’s topic. Today’s image is an example of what happens in the wild. Animals have genitalia. Do you include them in the in-camera framing, crop them latter, or don’t worry about it?
Case in point: This portrait of a Central American Spider Monkey taken on my last tour of Costa Rica. I have cropped this image for a number of issues, including:
- Removing the branch above the monkey’s head
- Placing the monkey’s face at the upper left power point of the Rule of thirds
- Carefully placing the branch so that it intersects the lower right picture edge
- Used crop rotation to give the image a more lazy, lackadaisical feel
- Used Filling the Frame to make the portrait more personal
Oh, and I cropped out what some might refer to to as the ‘naughty bits’. Refer to the original, uncropped image below.
The genitalia on the monkey has been cropped in favor of composition here, and to a lesser extent delicate sensibilities. Fortunately we live in an age where accurate portrayals of wild animals are no longer taboo. Unfortunately there is still a sophomoric tendency to giggle at the private parts-regardless of species. Adolescent behavior aside, why crop off the ‘naughty bits’?
There are a few reasons:
- I didn’t get the entire animal in the shot anyway. It was too close for my lens so I knew I was dealing with a partial beast. There is little harm at this point in going in tighter.
- The genitalia are a bright (obvious) spot in a dark, uninteresting area of the image. They draw the eye from the monkey’s face. For the sake of composition and story, they are a distraction from the story I am telling. They have to go.
- The strongest composition demanded the lower part of the frame be sacrificed.
I am not so much a prude that I would have lopped off the ‘naughty bits’ without good reason. Had the composition for the strongest iteration of the image demanded it, they would have been left intact. I might have subdued them in another fashion to make their appearance less of a distraction but that is outside the domain of the cropping.
Whether you decide to leave in the ‘naughty bits’ or not in a photo is up to you. Just make sure it is a compositional decision.
Rikk Flohr © 2011