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Photo Tips > Cropping Thoughts

One learns to avoid mentioning certain topics with people that you don't know well, such as:

• Religion

• Politics

• Cropping.


Yes, mentioning cropping can bring forth much bile and blather.

Two at the Extremes

Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans had differing views on cropping.

Henri Cartier-Bresson



Not a real quote

Cartier-Bresson purportedly permitted only two of his photographs to be cropped.

His printers were instructed to use filed-out negative carriers so that a black line could appear at the perimeter of the photographs.

The black edge proved that the photographs were not cropped.

Ironically, one of the two cropped photographs was one of his most famous photographs, above.

Cartier-Bresson was a surrealist at heart.

Apparently, he couldn't discard the "defective" photograph due to the juxtaposition of the puddle jumper and the dance poster.

We do like reflections, too.

He blinked; he cropped.

Walker Evans


Walker Evans

Stieglitz wouldn't cut off a quarter-inch off a frame.

I would cut any inches off my frames in order to get a better picture.

Leslie Katz with Walker Evans, 1971

In a Nutshell

Trust your eye.

Wait to crop.

If you do crop, make a copy and crop the copy.

Avoid cropping discussions on forums, as there are often many ways to crop the same photograph.

Reasons to Avoid Cropping

Here are some reasons for not cropping.

No Crop Reason #1 - Easier

If you can do it right with the camera, do so.

It's usually easier to make a correction, when photographing, rather than later, at the computer.

Crop with the camera frame, not later.

No Crop Reason #2 - Easier Exhibiting

If you're exhibiting your work, and you don't crop, you can use the same-sized mattes and frames for all of your photographs.

That saves time and money.

Don't crop.

No Crop Reason #3 - Discipline

If you're trying to get it right when photographing, you'll be more sensitive.

When you're behind your camera . . .

. . . don't be reading a dull book just before you fall asleep . . .

. . . be on stage.

Don't crop.

No Crop Reason #4 - Visual Consistency

If you're work is in an exhibit or a book, a viewer might be distracted if one of your photographs is grainy, i.e., cropped from a small part of a much larger photograph.

Don't crop.

Reasons to Crop

Here are some reasons to crop.

Crop Reason #1 - Photographing Action

Perfect framing is easy when you're sitting on a stool, under the black focusing cloth, looking at the focusing screen of your view camera, which is perched on a tripod.

However, if you're following in the footsteps of Garry Winogrand, photographing rush hour on 14th Street in New York City, your framing may not always be perfect.


Crop Reason #2 - Aspect Ratios

A digital SLR has an aspect ratio of 3 to 2.


Point-and-shoot cameras have a 4 to 3 aspect ratio.


They look the same.

The point-and-shoot aspect ratio is a bit more more square.


• The blue box is the digital SLR aspect ratio.

• The red box, under the blue box, is the point-and-shoot camera aspect ratio.


Go to Aspect Ratios.

Who says the world always has to be placed in a 3:2 or 4:3 rectangles?


120 film users (Hasselblad, Rolleiflex, etc.), such as Diane Arbus, used the square format.


Why not you?



Film photographers, such as Lois Connor, use old banquet cameras for panoramic landscapes.


Why not you?

Crop (or stitch).


Who says you need right angles?

When photographers sent in the first Kodak cameras for processing in the late 1800s, circular photographs were returned.


Why not you?


Crop Reason #3 - Paper Sizes

Photography is still using paper sized for negatives from the 1800s.


With digital printing, we now have letter-sized paper (8.5" x 11").


There's often a mismatch between the aspect ratios of digital files and printing papers.

Your photograph may not fit on a certain sized paper.

The paper sizes and aspect ratios below match.

Print Size Aspect Ratio Camera Type

4" x 6"

8" x 12"


Digital SLR

4" x 5.33"



The paper sizes below don't match any common camera aspect ratios.

The ratios below are given as x to 1 (x:1).

The comparable aspect ratio for a digital SLR is 1.5:1 (same as 3:2).

Print Size Aspect Ratio Camera Type

5" x 7"



8" x 10"



8.5" x 11"



16" x 20"



17" x 22"



Crop, if you need to use the above paper sizes, at a lab.

Otherwise, the lab will crop for you.

You'll do a better job.

If you're printing at home, you can print the entire photograph on the above papers.

The borders will be uneven, however.

Crop Reason #4 - Viewfinders

Are Not Accurate

Unless you own a very expensive camera, your viewfinder isn't accurate.

You get more in the photograph than what you see in the viewfinder.

Therefore, you may something unexpected in a photograph.


Creativity Styles

Cartier-Bresson's work is decisive moments.

We prize decisive-moment photography.

We should, such as Kathy Keatley Garvey's photograph of the aftermath of a bee sting.


Cartier-Bresson makes a strong case for not cropping.

Photography is not like painting.

There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture.

Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.

That is the moment the photographer is creative.


The Moment!

Once you miss it, it is gone forever.

Washington Post, 1957

And . . .

Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes a precise moment in time.

We play with subjects that disappear; and when they're gone, it's impossible to bring them back to life.

We can't alter our subject afterward…writers can reflect before they put words on paper…as photographers, we don't have the luxury of this reflective time….

We can't redo our shoot once we're back at the hotel.

Our job consists of observing reality with help of our camera (which serves as a kind of sketchbook), of fixing reality in a moment, but not manipulating it, neither during the shoot nor in the darkroom later on.

These types of manipulation are always noticed by anyone with a good eye.

American Photo, September/October 1997

Cartier-Bresson is one of the greatest photographers.

But, do his words apply to all types of photography?

Is instant creativity better than reflective creativity?

Above, I used:

• A slightly pejorative word, instant, paired with Cartier-Bresson's style.

• A complimentary word, reflective, paired with creativity after the photograph is taken.

A reflective Walker Evans is just as good as an instantaneous Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Cropping depends.

Cropping or not, doesn't matter, much.