Crop Shop is a new article series on Holy Crop! that takes a single image and disassembles the process of cropping as it happens in my mind.
Today’s image is from a Costa Rica trip with Worldesigns Photo. This Bronzy Hermit came out of no where, hovered for a moment above a flower and zipped off as quickly as it had arrived. It was dark, raining and I had no idea if the camera settings were even close. Fortunately, had my flash on or else this image would have been for naught. I snapped the camera to my eye, fired the shutter and prayed that Canon’s autofocus (notorious for long-lens low-light failure) would come through. It did. I only got one shot and the bird was gone. There was no time to compose in-camera.
I did a little exposure work to see what I had left for an image and immediately saw possibilities. I also saw problems. If you’ve ever read my series on the Three C’s of Image Editing, you will know, I start at the crop. I examined my image and discovered my problem areas.
A. Dead-center is deadly. Autofocus required my first priority was to centering my subject. Great for sharpness but bad for composition. The subject needs to be elsewhere.
B. Intruding distraction from the right of frame. This leaf has to go. It floats in space unnaturally.
C. Right-hand flower is much softer than the left-hand flower. Its bright, colored presence pulls our eye away from the hummingbird. It needs to go.
D. Too much dead space to the top and the left-hand side. In order to focus our eye on our subject we need a tighter crop.
E. Distracting foreground leaves. These are tough to crop and still make the image work. We will have to deal with them none-the-less.
I decided to make an initial crop before continuing working on exposure, color and the rest. I chose a standard 1.5 aspect ratio in Landscape and cropped until the hummingbird was on the upper right power point and the flower was on the lower left power point. This crop allowed me to eliminate the leaf and flower (B & C). I was also able to reduce the dead space (D) at the same time. (A) was solved by the placement of the crop. With a single crop I was able to eliminate 4 of my five initially-identified problem areas. (E) would have to be taken care of with other adjustments.
Finished Image (more or less)
I worked on exposure, saturation and some of the hotspots caused by the flash and was able to make a passable photograph from the initial capture. The bird is more dynamic and floats above the scene as we would expect a flying creature to behave. There is little dead space now. The flower is balanced by the bird and the background is sufficiently muted. In previous articles, I have cautioned that you should try more than one crop so I am going to practice a little of what I preach.
The Panoramic Crop seems to work ok. I am not enthralled by it but it is far better than the original camera framing.
The Square Crop is interesting. It eliminates most of the dead space and puts the bird right down in the plants. I could live with this. I think the leaves become more dynamic as they slash through the image rather than grow out of the bottom right.
Naturally, a vertical crop would be the next item to try but I couldn’t come up with a vertical crop that worked without bisecting the flower. Cutting the flower in half vertically just did not work. Then I remembered another technique: Crop Rotation.
I rotated the image a little counter-clockwise and saw possibilities. What would happen if I rotated clockwise?
Now the flower is vertical and the bird is slanted. All of a sudden the picture becomes a little more dynamic. The bird isn’t just hovering, it is banking on approach-all thanks to a little crop rotation. The other thing crop rotation does for me is it moves the flower off bias so that I can crop vertically without splitting the flower in two.
Rotate almost 45° and you can now get a decent vertical crop. The leaves grow up and we are ok with that. The bird swoops and turns and it looks great. The angle of the muted background helps make the image more dynamic.
While we are here, we might as well try the vertical panorama. I would hate to leave it off the list. The subject is a little centered but the image still works pretty well. Maybe a little tighter on the bird and we can still have that vertical panorama and not center the bird? Do you think?
Was I successful? Perhaps. The image definitely follows the Rule of Thirds now. We are filling the frame with hummingbird. Only personal preference will tell you if it is better.
The point of Crop Shop is to get you crop more than one way when you are evaluating an image. From the initial (unimaginative but foundationally solid) crop, we have explored seven additional crops and created very different looking images from a single capture.
- Take a “Dead-center” image of your own
- Crop it Landscape, Portrait, Square, Panorama, Vertical Panorama.
- Rotate it 30° and repeat step 2
- Rotate it the other way 30° and repeat step 2
I am betting you will like more than one of them.
Rikk Flohr © 2010