Whilst there is no substitute for attention to detail whilst composing a shot in the field, cropping is a powerful tool to be used in post processing.
For one, it can dramatically change the impact of the story that you’re trying to tell. Limited to a maximum focal length of 300mm I always knew this was going to be a BIG Crop to really make the interaction between the ox-peckers and the buffalo the focal point of the frame.
Given that I was shooting off of the Canon 5DsR which has a massive 50MP sensor, I was happy to give it a go.
The final result is a 14.5 MP file which still holds a lot of detail AND makes the story that much stronger.
Cropping is also a much better way of removing distracting elements in the frame rather than cloning or using content aware fill.
In this example, I wanted to place my subject on the top right of the frame but, given a fixed focal length of 400mm, there was no way of composing the shot without the bright patch of sky in the top left of frame.
Our eyes are drawn to areas which are bright, sharp or have a lot of contrast and this patch of sky is bright and full of contrast, pulling the viewers eye away from the cheetah.
A fairly conservative crop makes for a much stronger image.
The same principle applies in this example where the brighter areas in the top of frame are competing with the subject in the bottom of the frame.
Again, a conservative crop not only makes the story stronger but removes the potentially distracting element of the bright sky in the top of the frame.
Dealing with distracting elements in the frame by cropping can make a big difference to the final image. Remember though, similar results can be acheived by zooming in and recomposing as much as posisble in the field.
The lighter branches in the top left of frame are for me a distracting element which competes with the bright, sharp eye of the lion. A slight crop results in a much more powerful, intimate and “clean” image than the original.
One should always be aware of what content is in the frame and more importantly, of any potentially distracting elements which will compete with your actual story.
If you haven’t maxed out your focal length in the field and end up cropping after the fact you’re wasting pixels and this is where it is really important to pay attention to this in the field.
That being said, a little cropping in post production can go a long way to making your story and final image that much stronger.
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