Some subjects have, well, for lack of a better word, appendages. Sometimes those appendages are vitally important to the subject. It just wouldn’t look right if you chopped them off-even though they extend far beyond the body. Looking at the grasshopper picture above, you can see what I mean. Any in-camera framing or software crop has to deal with appendages-especially antennae! This is a problem associated with many creatures: spiders, jellyfish, birds with ornate crests, guard feathers or tails, and a host of others. While I’ve found no hard and fast rule for cropping space around these appendages, I find I must contend with them nonetheless.
Consider this photo of a Great Southern White butterfly photographed at the Minnesota Zoo Butterfly Garden. It has two long appendages that extend far beyond the space of its body. The antennae are not just wispy stalks as in the grasshopper image leading the article. These antennae are punctuated with bright blue bulbs. They stand out quite nicely at the end of the long stalk. That means, the liberties I took with the proximity to the stalk terminus in the grasshopper photo probably cannot apply here.
In the crop above, I followed my normal instinct for grounding a subject. When I ground, I leave a minimum of half an ankle height from the bottom of the frame to the bottom of the subjects foot. Half a blue bulb cuts it to finely to the edge.
Expanding upwards, I give the space one and one half times the previous area. While slightly better, the wiggle room for the antenna is still too confining. Already, it should be coming clear that the punctuated appendage needs to be treated differently. The bulb size is not as important as the total antenna length. We need to consider adding back more space.
In this iteration, we moved from using the bulb to determine our spacing, to using the antenna itself. This photo represents the move to 1/4 the antenna length as our guide for leaving space. The wiggle room is getting better. While, personally, I feel a little tight here, it is livable-especially if there is no more frame into which to crop.
Fortunately, there was a little frame space left from the in-camera capture and framing. I took the crop up to approximately 1/3 – 1/2 of the antenna length and the space started to make the most sense. Due to the way I shoot my field macro in tripod-forbidden locations, (namely, AI Servo and Center-point Focusing) there is no additional space left without going to anti-cropping. I am happiest here.
Viewing many crops and trying the different spacing is the only way to develop a feel for how much space you need to leave for an extended appendage. In the grasshopper image at top, the nature of the long tapered appendages gives us freedoms the wand-like butterfly antennae do not offer. They can be placed tighter to edge because the taper out of existence. We must instead discover a place where these wand-like antennae can live freely but without strength-sapping space. Here, 1/3 of length will give me a good starting point for the next time I am confronted with this style of appendage.
Editorial Note: Over the past few articles, I have been dealing isolated concepts in determining space. As with the squirrel of three articles ago, the butterfly today, and, I am certain, future editions, we are focusing in on only one part of the cropping decision. There has been temptation amongst readers to offer critique on the entire crop. Realize that the finished images may be quite different than those you see here (they may also not be!) The crops (and ultimately the compositions) have been isolated to more effectively demonstrate the concept and to protect the innocent.
Rikk Flohr © 2013