“Sometimes deciding upon the perfect crop means tossing away an equally valid version.”
Badger in the Grass is a photograph from my recent workshop to Badlands National Park. As an instructor on the Badlands Winter Wildlife workshop, it is important to get my clients close to compelling views of wildlife. A participant and I followed this badger for nearly a quarter mile to get this shot. Badger in the Grass went through surprisingly few iterations. The uncropped image shown below is very simple — which complicates things. Blue Sky, razor-thin depth of field and an obvious subject give us the old Bob Seger quandary “… what to leave in, what to leave out”
A closer examination of the uncropped original above shows a dead-center subject that doesn’t quite work. The reason for the in-camera framing is that I shoot wildlife with only the center focus point enabled. I want to chose where the image focuses to ensure the tightness of the focal lock on the animal’s face. That leaves us with the ability to chop off non-contributing portions of the image to improve our composition. Those portions are not always obvious.
This crop was actually my second crop. Ultimately the first crop became my final choice but not before I agonized over this crop. The American Badger has been moved to the lower-right power point to emphasize the uncovered eye. I left unfocused grass, sharp grass, unfocused hillside and finally sky to give myself depth.
In final analysis of which crop to use, the two dark bands in the blue sky offered enough of a distraction for me to sacrifice the depth of having the sky in the scene and the Rule of Thirds composition. Those two shadows are actually very nearby out-of-focus strands of prairie grass. I was laying on my belly for these captures meaning not only was there a badger in the grass — there was a photographer in the grass as well.
Here is an overlay of the crop I decided upon. I decided to omit the sky and with it the depth. The badger is long and low and the crop needs to be long and low as well. This allows space in our mind for the long badger body, hidden in the grass, but within our expectations, to occupy. The nearby grass shadows aren’t as obvious without the sky and that solves another dilemma. The closer crop makes the badger encounter seem more personal and engages the viewer.
When all is said and done, I have a very mono-tone image because I have left out the blue skies, which, while natural, took away from the overall golden tone of the image. Black. white and gold, and a badger in the grass… staring at a photographer in the grass… and ultimately you.
Rikk Flohr © 2012
When 3:1 isn’t enough and 4:1 is too much…
This was the lizard as presented to me in the wild. I didn’t have enough lens to get closer and fill the frame. He or she was a nervous little guy or gal and I found that if I stayed this far away the lizard would pose nicely without darting into those dark crevices. I composed as best I could avoiding a major distracting splotch of bird droppings on the left and fired the shutter. In-camera, I was happy with the crop but later, in post, I decided to see if I could improve the image’s impact.
The dark line below and the dark holes above were originally intended to be framing elements. The lack of contrast between a dusky red lizard and dusty red rocks wasn’t enough to overpower the shadows on the rock face. My solution: Crop them out. After trying a variety of crops, I started working toward offsetting the lizard with some open space. To maximize that open space, I went as wide as I could and just narrow enough to eliminate those competing shadow areas.
Ultimately, I got close and then decided to go for one of my magical crop number. The final aspect ratio ended up somewhere between 3:1 and 4:1 and ultimately I forced a 3.33:1 ratio striving to achieve nice mathematical 10/3:1 ratio. The lizard definitely takes over the picture with the distractions cropped out and the aspect makes for dramatic amount of space where 3:1 was not enough and 4:1 was just too much. Another intermediate ratio I often use is 2.5:1.
When your panoramic crops look a little wide or not wide enough try these intermediate ratios and see if your image doesn’t become a little stronger.
Rikk Flohr © 2012
In my last article, I spoke about using a Square Crop to enhance an abstract.
The original capture however looked like this image below. To get to the above image from the below we did three things:
- I cropped square to break the trend of landscape/portrait for people images.
- We cropped tight to fill the frame and enhance the abstract.
- We rotated our crop to work the white space in the corners.
So what happens if we go the other way and stay square and level with the crop but go the opposite of tight-in fact, we go so loose we run off the edges of the original capture. It might be a good time to go check out my article and video tutorial on Anti-cropping.
Essentially the goal is to use a little isolation by creating additional space above and to the facing side of the figure. When we do this in Adobe Photoshop™ using some content aware fill and scale to bring in some expanse to the universe of the figure, we create a totally different feel.
This idea came home to me when I was in NYC last year. The hotel in which I was staying was next door to the Crosby Street Gallery which was showcasing an exhibit of the Horses of Sable Island by Roberto Dutesco. There was an image of his that got me thinking of isolating subjects to corners.
Framed to gargantuan size and hanging on a wall in a gallery with a four figure price tag, it certainly garnered my attention. While it wasn’t a piece with which I was particularly enthralled, it did get me thinking about large expanses of space as a compositional element; hence the the decision to try this compositional treatment to the image below.
Folded in Space
by Rikk Flohr
Abstract evaporates. The image takes on an aloneness-a solitude-a frailty. Emotion explodes.
Same capture, same aspect, two crops: one tight and one loose. Which you choose depends upon your personal taste and the story which you are trying to tell.
Rikk Flohr © 2012