Definition: Crop; Cropping; Cropped;

Definition: Crop; Cropping; Cropped;  | Glossary entry

Crop; Cropping; Cropped;

Most still photographs are taken in a standard format of image size. Most DSLRs will take an image shape of a rectangle in the proportion of 4:3. However, the final image is often seen in another shape entirely. To cut the shape of the image to a different shape from the original is to ‘crop’ the image. The action of doing a crop is cropping.

Crops in general are used for a number of different purposes…

  • To provide a pleasing frame (composition)
  • To create a subject specific frame (suiting the subject)
  • To create a particular compositional flow for the eye
  • To create a symmetry or antisymmetry for the subject matter
  • To complement the subject
  • To contrast the subject
  • To remove an element(s) from the picture (cropping out)
  • To change the relative position of an element on the picture
    (eg. to create a rule of thirds placement in the image)
  • To act as a design context for page elements around the image
  • To work with other elements on a page

This list is not exclusive. However, it indicates the categories that various types of crop fall into.

For the starter photographer cropping is usually a matter of composition. Modern artistic trends in photography favour uncluttered and simple pictures showing the subject in clear detail with as little distraction as possible around the subject. As a result the trend is to crop to the shape of the subject.

Some crops are not as simple to understand as it seems. In pictures where the success of the composition involves drawing the eye around the picture the crop may form a distinctive and important part of the composition itself. Pattern pictures and images with strong line compositions may be examples. On the other hand pictures that have strong symmetry may be effectively framed in a square frame rather than a rectangle. Ultimately the photographer has to make a judgement on the basis of personal preference. There are no rules. The only guidance may lie in the previous treatment of similar subject matter.

There are a number of well used crops that have specific names…

  • Rectangular… any aspect ratio; crop is cut to suit the picture
  • Square… a true or near true square format
  • Letterbox… long thin format; often panoramas and landscapes
  • Round, Circular… often used for symmetrical shots or specific portraits
  • Oval… mainly for portraits; also be used for specialist subjects

Cropping is not necessarily an artistic decision. Sometimes the crop is used to suit the other subject matter on a page or hanging context. For example a photo cropped wide and thin (letterbox) might look odd in a tall thin cove in a wall. Alternatively, many editors use portrait format pictures as a way to fill column space and allow other textual content to be printed beside the picture. The crop may therefore be used as a design element which is affecting the surrounding context rather than complementing the picture.

There is no doubt that cropping a picture has an impact on the final image. All cropping decisions should be made with aesthetics in mind as well as any other purpose for the crop.